Tensions remain high across India Monday after five days of protests against a contentious new religion-based citizenship law turned violent in New Delhi, with police using tear gas to disperse crowds.
Anger against the law has fueled protests across the country, from Assam, about 1,900 kilometers (1,180 miles) to the east of Delhi, to demonstrations in Bengaluru and Mumbai. The agitation in Assam prompted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was scheduled to visit the state, the delay a three-day trip that was set to begin on Sunday.
The United Nations has described the law is “fundamentally discriminatory.”
Authorities shut down internet access in some districts in Assam -- which borders Bangladesh -- and in West Bengal as protesters defied police to take to the streets against the Citizenship Amendment Law. Passed Wednesday, it bars undocumented Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan from seeking citizenship but allows undocumented Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from these regions to do so.
Home Minister Amit Shah, who introduced the bill the parliament last week, called for calm on Sunday, saying cultures in northeastern states were not under threat.
Still, political leaders in Kerala, Punjab and West Bengal all said publicly they will not implement the law, setting up a potential conflict with the federal government in New Delhi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has vowed to implement a citizenship drive nationwide to weed out undocumented migrants.
Assam was the first state to implement the register. The arduous process that ended in August 2019 has put about 1.9 million people at risk of becoming stateless. The new citizenship law has further raised concerns about the whittling away of values laid out in the secular constitution of the world’s second-most populous nation.
As protests raged in Delhi late on Sunday, student leaders and demonstrators were calling for police restraint and for the new law -- which they say goes against India’s secular constitution -- to be overturned.
“We don’t want an India where our citizenship is decided on the basis of our religion,” said N Sai Balaji, national president of All India Students’ Association at the demonstration outside Delhi police headquarters. “We want an India where humanity will be the basis of our citizenship. This is Delhi. Imagine what’s happening in the remote corners of this country.”