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India: Despite bloodshed, Indians continue to resist discriminatory citizenship law

Sunday 22 December 2019, by siawi3


India: Despite bloodshed, Indians continue to resist discriminatory citizenship law

Today was the bloodiest day in the course of the protests so far with 15 killed in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh by police firing

December 21, 2019

by Peoples Dispatch

After police violence on Friday evening against anti-CAA and NRC, people gather at Delhi’s Jama Masjid. (Photo: V. Arun Kumar Kumar/ Peoples Dispatch)

For over a week, India has been gripped by massive unrest against the far-right government led by prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The protests that began as a movement against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act or the CAA, has turned into a nation-wide uprising to protect the values of secularism, democracy and socialism.

The CAA opens pathways to citizenship for a specific set of immigrants who have lived in India from before December 31, 2014 and are from India’s three Muslim-dominated neighbors, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Critics of the Act have stated that specification of only non-Muslim minorities from a handful of Muslim neighbors, has far-reaching implications that will define Indian citizenship along religious lines.

The CAA along with plans to expand the even more controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC), as implemented in the state of Assam, has been viewed as a potential threat to secularism and a means to disenfranchise millions of Muslims. The implementation of the NRC in Assam, ended up with the exclusion of over 1.9 million people, with a large number of cases of exclusion being merely that of bureaucratic or processing errors.

Massive protests began in Assam, and spread fast across the rest of the neighboring states, bringing the entire northeast of India to complete standstill. After the violent repression of the protests in Assam, mobilizations spread to other parts of India and reached the national capital of Delhi, which were also met with police brutality.

Students of two of the renowned universities in the country, Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University in the state of Uttar Pradesh, who have been actively mobilizing against the Act, were also met with brutal violence from the police. The police violence inside the universities led organizations to broaden the grievances and demands of the protests to include an end to state brutality and anti-democratic policies of the government.

Left parties, along with civil society organizations, in the country, held an all-India strike against the government on December 19, which was unsurprisingly also met with police violence and repression. In several states police detained and arrested thousands, and while in Mangalore, Karnataka police killed two when they open fired at protesters.

The pan-Indian strike gave momentum to an even larger struggle that has expanded to different parts of the country.


December 20 was a monumental show of strength as multiple protests were held on December 20 across the capital city. In the old quarters of the city, a historically Muslim neighborhood, a massive demonstration was held despite threats made by the police to arrest anyone participating in protests.

At the historic Jamia Masjid, the largest mosque in the country, hundreds converged to meet Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’, chief of the Bhim Army, a militant anti-caste organization named after the architect of India’s constitution Bhimrao Ambedkar.

Despite the police blockade, Azad managed to enter the mosque and join the demonstrators, and held up a copy of the Indian constitution with a picture of Ambedkar on it. Azad was later apprehended by the police later outside the mosque.

Protest at Jama Masjid area. (Photo: V. Arun Kumar/ Peoples Dispatch)

A massive protest was also held at the landmark India Gate organized by civil society movements and joined by leaders of opposition political parties.

Later in the day, while peaceful protesters were carrying out their evening prayers in the Daryaganj neighborhood, police attacked them with batons and sprayed water cannons at them. The repression lasted hours and 15 were arrested, including 8 minors. Dozens of injured protesters were denied access to medical help and lawyers by the police which had the entire neighborhood in a virtual lock-down for hours.

The Delhi High Court hearing petitions against the police on December 21 chastised the body for arresting minors and for the disproportionate use of violence against protesters. Shortly after, the police were obliged to release the minors.

The rest of the detainees are still in custody and were only granted access to medical help and legal counsel after people protested for hours outside police headquarters demanding their release.

Uttar Pradesh

The northern state of Uttar Pradesh witnessed the most violent episode of police repression in the ongoing protests. On December 20 and 21, protests in Aligarh, Varanasi, Lucknow and other parts of the state witnessed sweeping and unhinged violence ordered by the state government of right-wing Hindu-nationalist chief minister Yogi Adityanath of the BJP. Chief Minister Adityanath had also made an inflammatory statement yesterday, stating that the government will exact “revenge” for the supposed vandalism caused by the protesters.

The state government imposed harsh restrictions across the state, cut internet access in several parts of the state, and deployed armed special police to deal with protests. In the span of two days, the police detained nearly 3,000 protesters and injured hundreds. On December 21, the violence was at its peak, when the police open fired at protesters in different parts of the state, killing 15, and bringing the pan-Indian death toll to 21 as a result of police violence. In the city of Varanasi, part of the parliamentary constituency of prime minister Modi, an 8-year-old was reported to have been killed in police firing.


The state of Bihar was brought to a grinding halt due to protests by civil society movements and students’ movements. The response of the state government was a complete shutdown of the internet across the state for the entire day on December 20. On December 21, opposition parties in the state joined the protests after they called for a statewide strike against the Act and violence meted out by the police on the protesters.

The state government of Bihar is led by chief minister Nitish Kumar, leader of the Janata Dal (United) Party, an alliance partner of the BJP. The JD(U) was among the few non-BJP parties that gave a decisive vote in favor of the CAA in the parliament. Kumar, who will face an election next year, has taken a reconciliatory stand in the face of a massive protests. On December 20, he ruled out any chances of implementing the NRC in the state. Nevertheless, the attempts at political reconciliation was not reflected in police violence as baton charges and other means of repression reportedly left 27 injured in different parts of the state on December 21.


The southern state of Kerala, currently ruled by a leftist government, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), was among the states to have categorically opposed the implementation of CAA and the NRC. On December 20, the state government led by chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, has ordered the state bureaucracy to stay all activities towards implementing the National Population Register, which is seen as a precursor by many to an all-India NRC. Vijayan, has also called upon other chief ministers belonging to different national opposition parties to do the same and resist the sectarian machinations of the ruling federal government.

The Kerala government was among the few opposition state governments to participate in the all-India strike of December 19. Vijayan was joined by the state’s primary opposition leader, along with every other party represented in the state legislature. The government has also encouraged for constant statewide demonstrations by students and civil society movements against CAA and NRC, and also police violence in northern parts of India.


Multiple protests were also held in the neighboring state of Karnataka. In the city of Mangalore where two protesters had been killed on December 19, intense protests were held and the government responded by shutting down the internet and imposing curfew-like prohibitions on the movement of the people, and arrested dozens.

On December 21 students from several universities and colleges in the eastern metropolis of Kolkata in the state of West Bengal, marched to the state’s BJP headquarters to protest the CAA and NRC. Students were joined by civil society organizations and leftist movements in response to some of the recent pronouncements of the Home Minister of India and BJP chief, Amit Shah, hinting at the imposition of NRC across the country. The state of West Bengal had absorbed a vast majority of refugees during and after the Bangladesh Liberation War, and is expected to be the most affected state if the BJP goes ahead with its plans.


also read: India’s freedom struggle 2.0 , This time it’s against fascists



Citizenship Law Protests Shut Down India’s Capital

By Saikat Datta,

December 20, 2019

Photo: Police detain a protester at a demonstration against India’s new citizenship law in New Delhi on December 19, 2019. Photo: AFP / Sajjad Hussain

Govt turns off internet, ties up transport to stymie nationwide opposition to religion-based citizenship law

India’s national capital, New Delhi, faced a lockdown unprecedented in history on Thursday as protests over the religion-based Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) broke out across the country.

The Act allows refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to become Indian citizens but bars Muslims. This, many have complained, violates the constitution of India – a country whose population includes 200 million Indian Muslims.

Anger against the amended law had spread across India after students were beaten up in Delhi on Sunday and more protests were planned. Across India students from 33 university campuses started a chain of protests that culminated in the nationwide agitation today.

The federal government got wind of those plans. Determined to crack down on protests, it invoked section 144 of the criminal procedure code, a colonial-era law that prohibits more than five people from gathering in a public space.

On Thursday morning as protesters began to gather at pre-determined locations in Delhi in defiance of section 144, the police sent out an urgent order to all telecom companies to suspend mobile connections including internet and voice communications at specific locations.

Nearly 16 metro stations at last count were closed Thursday to prevent protesters from arriving at the locations. The police action also led to massive traffic jams in Delhi and its neighboring city Gurgaon and Noida, with people trapped for hours on the road.

Protesters react from a bus after being arrested at a demonstration against India’s new citizenship law in New Delhi on December 19, 2019. Photo: Sajjad Hussain / AFP

Meanwhile, spontaneous protests were reported from Mumbai, India’s financial capital, and from Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Vadgaon, Ahemedabad, Calcutta and many other prominent cities as more people joined the ongoing agitation.

In the southern city of Bangalore, known as India’s information technology hub, police commissioner Bhaskar Rao announced the imposition of section 144 on Wednesday night.

By then disparate groups of citizens across the country, including in Bangalore, had already started planning their protests.

A protester shouts slogans from a bus after being arrested at the Bangalore Town Hall during a demonstration held against India’s new citizenship law on December 19, 2019. Photo: Manjunath Kiran / AFP

Prominence was no insurance against arrest when the crunch came. Noted historian and scholar Ramchandra Guha, known globally for his books on India’s post-independence history and specifically on Mohandas K “Mahatma” Gandhi, was picked up by the Bangalore police while he was speaking to the media at a protest site.

“I have been detained by the police for holding a poster of Gandhi and speaking about the constitution to the press,” Guha told TV news channel NDTV, whose journalists were interviewing him when he was dragged away.

“The police are working under directions from the central government,” Guha said. “We are protesting non-violently against a discriminatory act, in a disciplined way.”

Bangalore is the capital city of Karnataka, a state that is currently ruled by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

The central government has instructed all BJP-ruled states to strike down any protest against the citizenship act, according to high-ranking government sources.

Targeting Muslims

The amended citizenship law specifically bars Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan from seeking Indian citizenship through the special route. They can still apply under other sections of the existing laws, but takes a lot of documentation and time for approval. While that in itself is a major provocation, the nub of the anger aroused by the changed law stems from what the federal Home Minister Amit Shah has stated will follow.

Large protests over the controversial new citizenship law that bars Muslims broke out over parts of New Delhi. Photo: Asia Times / Ankur Tanwar

The National Register of Citizens (NRC), a controversial classification process that was started in 2013 in the state of Assam and ended this year, forced all citizens in the border state to file elaborate documents to prove they were Indian citizens.

The exercise found 1.1 million people who have not been able to prove their Indian citizenship. They are being moved into detention camps before they are either deported or manage to prove their citizenship through an elaborate appeals process.

The newly amended law blatantly gives immediate relief to those found “illegal” under the NRC only if they are not Muslims. That means that a nationwide NRC will give a free pass to everyone other than Muslims.

This has created anger, fear and uncertainty across the country. Article 14 of the Indian constitution prohibits discrimination on any basis including faith. This applies to non-citizens, as well, thus covering refugees and expatriates working in India.

Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against India’s new citizenship law in Allahabad on December 19, 2019. Photo: Sanjay Kanojia / AFP)

Internet suspension

While the suspension of the internet is a first in the national capital, the tactic has been widely used so extensively elsewhere recently that India has been mentioned as being in contention for being named the country with the most internet shutdowns in the world.

Kashmir, which was stripped of its constitutional special status on August 5 this year, has been without the internet for over 130 days. Reports suggest that the internet shutdown there has severely curtailed banking operations across the region, and also led to losses worth millions of dollars.

The internet was also suspended in the state of Assam and other states of India’s Northeast that have become the epicenter of the anti citizenship law protests. The Axomiyas, who dominate the state have opposed the settling of illegal migrants, Hindu or Muslim, in the state for decades. The neighboring states with large tribal populations have also opposed the new law.

Combative Modi

The BJP seems unwilling to back down even in the face of large-scale protests. The federal government has ignored warnings and criticism from the international community – including some comparisons of the discriminatory act to Nazi Germany’s race-based Nuremberg laws. The US state department and the United Nations have expressed deep concern.

Modi has been combative, blaming Muslims and the opposition parties for fomenting the protests. At an election rally in the eastern state of Jharkhand he said the protesters could be identified by their clothes – an apparent reference to Muslims in skull caps. His deputy Shah has done a round of combative interviews saying that a nationwide-NRC will follow the amended citizenship law.

However, among the BJP’s allies, some who voted in favor of the new law have now backed down. They now say they will refuse to allow a NRC and they have criticized the new law, calling it discriminatory against Muslims.

The opposition-ruled states of West Bengal, Odisha, Kerala and Punjab have already announced that they will not allow the NRC in their states. However, in the western state of Maharashtra, where the BJP was ousted from power recently, several detention centers were already under construction – places where illegal immigrants can be identified by the NRC.


Critics suggest that the government is trying to divert attention from the fact that India’s economy is slowing down alarmingly.

“The economic slowdown is a major challenge right now,” Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal noted. “So what was the need to do the citizenship law, if at all?’ Those being naturalized as Indians under the new law will have to be fed, clothed and housed. Who will do that? Will they end up talking scarce jobs in India?”

According to the International Monetary Fund India’s slowdown came as a “surprise” and is likely to get much worse next year. However, prime minister Modi has so far not commented on the state of the economy.

More protests are being planned for the weekend.