By Devjyot Ghoshal and Shilpa Jamkhandikar
NEW DELHI/MUMBAI - Hundreds of Indians held for defying a ban on demonstrating against a disputed new citizenship law continued protests in police detention on Thursday, and authorities shut down the internet for hours to help enforce bans on public gatherings.
Public anger and staunch opposition from political parties over the new legislation widely considered to be discriminatory toward Muslims has flared across the country.
Marches and rallies organized by college students, academicians, minority Muslim groups and opposition parties against the law passed by the Hindu nationalist government persisted despite legal moves to stifle them.
In the financial capital Mumbai, more than 5,000 protesters gathered on Thursday evening, forcing the police to impose traffic restrictions.
Haroon Patel, an Indian citizen who lives in London, joined the protest in Mumbai, calling the new law the first step toward dictatorship. “We have to save the country,” said Patel.
Supporters of the bill also took to the streets in the major western state of Gujarat. “The fault lines are defined - either one supports the law or stands against (it)...Indians have to decide and protest,” said Rupak Doshi, who organized a large rally in support of the law in Gujarat’s main city Ahmedabad.
Police detained hundreds of people in Delhi and the southern city of Bengaluru on Thursday and shut down the internet in some districts as protests entered a second week over a law that critics say undermines India’s secular constitution.
Yogi Adityanath, a senior leader of Modi’s party and Uttar Pradesh state chief minister, accused many protesters of indulging in violence. “People are allowed to protest, but no one is allowed to break the law,” said Adityanath.
In the eastern state of Bihar, a senior police official said more than 200 protesters detained in a police campus in Patna were chanting slogans against the law, but they would not be silenced by force.
Dozens of airline flights out of Delhi were canceled due to a lack of staff who were held up by traffic disruptions caused by protesters, and a number of Delhi metro stations closed.
A senior home ministry official said maintaining law and order was a state responsibility but reserve forces were ready to provide immediate assistance.
Rights group Amnesty International has asked federal and state governments to stop the crackdown on peaceful protests against what it called a “discriminatory” citizenship law.
Defying the bans, protesters held rallies at Delhi’s historic Red Fort and a town hall in Bengaluru, but police rounded up people in the vanguard of those demonstrations as they tried to get underway.
In Bengaluru, Ramchandra Guha, a respected historian and intellectual, was taken away by police along with several other professors, according to an aide. “I am protesting non-violently, but look, they are stopping us,” said Guha.
Police said they had detained around 200 people in the city, where protest organizers said thousands attended four demonstrations on Thursday.
PM MODI UNMOVED
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has dug his heels in over the law that lays out a path for people from minority religions in neighboring Muslim states - Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan - who settled in India before 2015 to obtain Indian citizenship.
Opponents of the law say the exclusion of Muslims betrays a deep-seated bias against the community, which makes up 14% of India’s population, and that the law is the latest move by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to marginalize them.
Discontent with Modi’s government has burst into the open after a series of moves seen as advancing a Hindu-first agenda in a country that has long celebrated its diversity and secular constitution.
Internet and text messaging services were suspended by government order in parts of Delhi on Thursday, mobile carriers said, widening a communications clampdown in restive areas stretching from disputed Kashmir to the northeast.
The outage affecting services provided by Vodafone Idea VODA.NS and Bharti Airtel BRTI.NS resumed around 1 p.m. (0730 GMT) after a four-hour interruption, they said.
Thousands defy ban on protests against Indian citizenship law
By Devjyot Ghoshal and Shilpa Jamkhandikar