Nine people died on Saturday during clashes between demonstrators and police in northern India. Raising the nationwide death toll to 23 in protests against a new citizenship law, said the police. Uttar Pradesh state police spokesman Pravin Kumar said the nine deaths increased the death toll in the state to 15 in the protests against the new law, which the protestors say discriminates against Muslims. “Majority of the dead are young people,” said an officer. “Some of them died of bullet injuries, but these injuries are not because of police fire. The police have used tear gas to scare away the agitating mob.”
According to NBC News, approximately a dozen vehicles were set on fire as protesters went over the board in the northern Indian cities of Rampur, Sambhal, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor and Kanpur, where a police station was also set ablaze. The protests against the law makes it the strongest show of protests against the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he was elected in 2014. The law allowed for Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally to become citizens if they can prove they were persecuted because of their religion in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims.
Protestors have stated the law is a violation of India’s secular constitution and have called it the latest effort by the Modi government to marginalize the country’s 200 million Muslims. Modi has defended the law as a humanitarian gesture. India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued an advisory Friday night asking broadcasters across the country to refrain from using content that could inflame further violence. The ministry asked for “strict compliance.”
According to aljazeera, India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh is home to 204 million people, and is controlled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). An anti-terror squad was deployed and internet services were suspended for another 48 hours in the state. Police said on Saturday that over 600 people were taken into custody. Including five people that were arrested and 13 police cases filed for posting “objectionable” material on social media. Police have now imposed a British colonial-era law, called Section 144, which bans assembly of more than four people statewide. The law was also imposed elsewhere in India to thwart an expanding protest movement demanding the revocation of the citizenship law.
“What is interesting is that a lot of the violence and deaths that have been happening have been in areas governed by the BJP or BJP-aligned parties,” Al Jazeera’s Subina Shrestha said, speaking from the Indian capital. In its response to the criticism, the BJP government says the law will not impact any Indian citizens, including Muslims. The BJP would launch a 10-day campaign to reach out to individual families to explain the law, said party spokesman Bhupender Yadav. India is supposedly building a detention center for the tens of thousands of people who the courts are expected to ultimately determine have entered illegally.