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Police storm campuses, crack down on protests against Indian citizenship law

Students in New Delhi, India, help an injured demonstrator after police on Dec. 15, 2019, cracked down on protests against a controversial new citizenship law .
Students in New Delhi, India, help an injured demonstrator after police on Dec. 15, 2019, cracked down on protests against a controversial new citizenship law . Adnan Abidi / REUTERS

Thousands of university students flooded the streets of India’s capital on Monday, while a southern state government led a march and demonstrators held a silent protest in the northeast to protest a new law giving citizenship to non-Muslims who entered India illegally to flee religious persecution in several neighbouring countries.

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The protests in New Delhi followed a night of violent clashes between police and demonstrators at Jamia Millia Islamia University. Protesters, who student organisers said were not students, set three buses on fire and police stormed the university library, firing tear gas at students crouched under desks.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government says the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which was approved by Parliament last week, will make India a safe haven for Hindus and other religious minorities in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But critics say the legislation, which for the first time conditions Indian citizenship on religion, violates the secular constitution of the world’s largest democracy.

The law’s passage has triggered protests across India, but the northeastern state of Assam, the centre of a decades-old movement against illegal immigrants, has seen the highest toll.

On Sunday police fired tear-gas and struck demonstrators with batons in the capital, where thousands protested against the new law.

Chinmoy Biswal, a top police official, said that six police personnel were injured in the melee in an upscale enclave of south Delhi.

Student organisers blamed outsiders for the violence.

“We have time and again maintained that our protests are peaceful and non-violent,” they said in a statement. “We stand by this approach and condemn any party involved in the violence.”

In Assam, which shares a border with Bangladesh and where violence erupted after the law's passage, demonstrators fear an influx of foreigners will dilute the native people's political sway and culture. Five people have been killed in ongoing protests over the law that, for the first time in Indian history, grants citizenship on the basis of religion.

At Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi, where slogans such as “#SecularIndia” were graffitied on buildings, many students told The Associated Press that the police fired tear gas inside the university’s library and beat up protesters before sealing all campus gates.

“We were treated like criminals. Scores were injured and I escaped from the campus to save my life,” said student Tufail Ahmad. 

Outside campus, the area around Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, a predominantly Muslim area, was deserted with shops and houses latched tight after the violent protests. 

A trail of stones that video footage showed protesters pelted earlier in the day at police lay with debris of broken glass and splatters of blood.

Videos shared with the AP from students streaming past a police perimeter surrounding the campus showed scenes of chaos in the university library with police firing tear gas and students huddled under tables and locked inside bathrooms.

“Police have entered the campus by force, no permission was given. Our staff and students are being beaten up and forced to leave the campus,” said Waseem Ahmed Khan, a top official of Jamia Millia Islamia University.

Many of the injured students were taken to nearby hospitals, including Holy Family, where about 26 students were treated, according to Father George, the hospital's spokesman.

“The police beat me mercilessly after pinning me down to the ground. My other friends weren’t spared either," said Mujeeb Raza, a student who was being treated at the nearby Al-Shifa hospital. 

(FRANCE 24 with AP)
 

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