Protests in India against a new citizenship law that opponents say is anti-Muslim spread to other regions on Friday, the day after two people were shot dead by the police in the northeast of the country, the epicenter of days of demonstrations.
Police with batons and firing tear gas clashed with hundreds of students in New Delhi, TV pictures showed as Muslim protesters set fire to placards in Amritsar and other rallies took place in the home state of Gujarat in Kolkata, Kerala, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The protests in Guwahati in the northeast, where medical staff had previously confirmed that two of the 26 people who were admitted to hospital with gunshot wounds were killed on Thursday night, prompted Modi and Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe to postpone the summit in the area scheduled for Sunday.
With four people still in critical condition on Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Office in Geneva called on India to “respect the right to peaceful assembly and comply with international standards and norms on the use of force in response to protests.”
In Guwahati, the main town in Assam state, rioters left a trail of destruction on Thursday, torching vehicles, blocking roads with bonfires and throwing stones at thousands of riot police who were backed by the army.
With the internet being suspended in many parts of the city, several thousand people were gathered on Friday for a sit-in protest and no major incident was reported. There was no money in many cash machines, shops were shuttered, and gas stations were opened.
Authorities in Meghalaya, another north-eastern state, cut off mobile internet and imposed a curfew on parts of the capital, Shillong. Approximately 20 people were injured in the clashes on Friday, reports said.
“They can’t settle anyone in our motherland. This is unacceptable. We will die but not allow outsiders to settle here,” protester Manav Das told AFP on Friday in Guwahati.
“We will defeat the government with the force of the people and the government will be forced to revoke the law,” said local activist Samujal Battacharya.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), approved this week, provides for fast tracking of applications from religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, but not from Muslims.
For Islamic groups, the opposition and rights organisations, it is part of Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalise India’s 200 million Muslims.
Modi denies this and says that Muslims from the three countries are not covered by the legislation because they have no need of India’s protection.
The US State Department on Thursday urged India to “protect the rights of its religious minorities”, according to Bloomberg.
The UN human rights office said it was concerned the law “would appear to undermine the commitment to equality before the law enshrined in India’s constitution”.
But for various reasons, many in the northeast object fear that immigrants from Bangladesh — many of whom are Hindus — will become residents, take jobs, and dilute the cultural identity of the region.
The passage of the law sparked angry scenes in both houses of parliament this week, with one lawmaker likening it to anti-Jewish legislation by the Nazis in 1930s Germany.
The chief ministers of several Indian states — West Bengal, Punjab, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — have said they will not implement the law.
West Bengal’s firebrand leader Mamata Banerjee, who has called for major protests in state capital Kolkata on Monday, said Modi wanted to “divide the nation”.
“It is completely unconstitutional and goes against the idea of India,” Aditya Mukherjee, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, told the NDTV channel.