India protesters fight citizenship law with New Year parties

Indian students shout against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a protest march in Kolkata, on Dec 30, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - Protesters across India are planning to use the New Year's Eve holiday to throw street parties to continue their fight against the country's new religion-based citizenship law that they say is discriminatory.

Activist and student groups in New Delhi and several other cities have taken to social media asking people to join them at midnight to ring in 2020. They plan to have stand-up comedy sessions, music, poetry and readings of India's secular constitution at the gatherings.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government on Dec 11 pushed through the Citizenship Amendment Act which allows undocumented migrants of all faiths except Islam from neighbouring Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to seek Indian citizenship. Protesters allege the new law will alter the country's secular ethos and violates the constitution which guarantees equal treatment to all religions.

For more than two weeks, tens of thousands of Indians of all faiths have taken to the streets to demand that the government withdraw the law. Civil society groups, some of whom are spearheading the protests, said an impending move to create a new nationwide citizens registry that the government has promised will lead to further chaos.

On Tuesday, Twitter and Facebook posts appeared asking people to gather in several cities including New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai.

The organisers are asking people to bring their own placards and candles and to "shake a leg on the songs of freedom" and "relish the rich taste of justice".

The government reaction to the protests has been swift and heavy-handed. At least 26 people, most of them in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, have been killed as police cracked down on protesters. Hundreds more have been arrested and detained.

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