Over 100 detained as Indian police ban protests against new citizenship law

A woman confronts police at a demonstration against India’s new citizenship law in New Delhi on Dec 19, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AP) - Police detained more than 100 protesters in key Indian cities on Thursday (Dec 19) as they defied a ban on protests that the authorities hoped would stop widespread demonstrations against a new citizenship law.

Dozens of demonstrations were to take place around the country as opposition grows to the new citizenship law that excludes Muslims. The law has sparked anger at what many see as the government's push to bring India closer to a Hindu state and which opponents say threatens the secular nature of Indian democracy.

Historian Ramchandra Guha, a biographer of India's independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, was among those detained in Bangalore, the capital of southern Karnataka state.

When reached by the phone, Mr Guha said he was on a bus with other detainees and did not know where the police were taking them.

In New Delhi, Mr Yogendra Yadav, the chief of the Swaraj India party, was among those detained as protesters said they would go ahead with a demonstration at New Delhi's iconic Red Fort and surrounding historic district.

Officials said more than 100 people were detained at the fort. Police could be seen dragging women protesters to a staging area behind the fort.

The protesters were loaded into buses and other vehicles. It was not clear where they were taken by the police.

The main roads leading to the fort were blocked by the police and they were not letting pedestrians go to nearby temples or shopping areas.

Internet service was blocked around the fort and in some other parts of New Delhi, a tactic the authorities are known to use in other parts of the country, such as disputed Kashmir, to try to stop protests from being organised. Such tactics are rare for the capital.

The new citizenship law applies to Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally but can demonstrate religious persecution in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims.

Critics say it is the latest effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist-led government to marginalise India's 200 million Muslims, and a violation of the country's secular Constitution.

Mr Modi has defended it as a humanitarian gesture.

The law's enactment last week follows a contentious process in north-eastern Assam state intended to weed out people who entered illegally.

Nearly two million people in Assam were excluded from an official list of citizens, about half Hindu and half Muslim, and have been asked to prove their citizenship or else be considered foreign.

India is also building a detention centre for some of the tens of thousands of people the courts are expected to ultimately determine have entered illegally. Mr Modi's interior minister Amit Shah has pledged to roll out the exercise nationwide.

Some Indian Muslims fear it's a means by which Hindu nationalists can put them in detention or deport them from the country.

On Wednesday, the authorities tightened restrictions on protesters, expanding a blockade of the Internet and a curfew in Assam.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.