Violent protests against a new law on immigration continue to rage in India despite the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeal for calm. Large rallies have been taking place in the capital Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Kolkata.
Monday’s protests came a day after clashes between police and protesters in Delhi left at least 50 injured. Protesters are angry at a law entitling citizenship to some non-Muslim migrants from three Muslim-majority countries.
The leader of India’s opposition Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, accused the government of creating an atmosphere of religious tension for political interests.
The protests – which have left six people dead – began in the north-eastern state of Assam last Thursday, before spreading to other parts of northern and eastern India.
But people are divided on why they have taken to the streets. Some critics say the law is anti-Muslim, while others – especially in border regions – fear large-scale migration.
The law allows non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, who entered India illegally, to become citizens.
The PM attempted to calm tensions in a series of tweets as students resumed their protests on Monday.
“No Indian has anything to worry regarding this act. This act is only for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go except India,” the prime minister wrote.
“This is the time to maintain peace, unity and brotherhood.”
Authorities have tried to curb the protests by shutting down internet services, so it is unclear how many people in affected areas have seen his tweets.
The Congress Party has accused the government of declaring a war on its own people.
Several lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to intervene, pointing out that officers had allegedly assaulted students in bathrooms, but the chief justice said that the court would not take any action until the protests ceased.
Delhi police spokesman MS Randhawa denied allegations against them, saying his officers “exercised maximum restraint”.
The UK, US and Canada have issued travel warnings for people visiting India’s north-east, telling their citizens to “exercise caution” if travelling to the region.
The Hindu-nationalist BJP government argues that the law aims to accommodate those who have fled religious persecution.
Critics say the law is part of the government’s agenda to marginalise Muslims, and that it violates secular principles enshrined in the constitution.
Earlier this week, the United Nations Human Rights office voiced concern that the new law was fundamentally discriminatory.
The government denies religious bias and says Muslims are not covered by the new law because they are not religious minorities, and therefore do not need India’s protection.
Meanwhile, people in Assam fear that they will be “overrun” by illegal non-Muslim migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
They argue that outsiders will take over their land and jobs – eventually dominating their culture and identity. (Source: BBC)