India: Thousands protest police action against students

Thousands of university students flooded the streets of India’s capital, while a southern state government led a march and demonstrators held a silent protest in the northeast on Monday to protest a new law giving citizenship to non-Muslims who entered India illegally to flee religious persecution in several neighbouring countries.

As a tide of protests by students against the new citizenship law engulfed India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday said the legislation did not affect any citizen of any religion in the country and blamed nationwide violence on “vested interests.”

Modi described as “deeply distressing” the violence on Sunday evening during protests at Jamia Millia Islamia University against the citizenship law.

“I want to unequivocally assure my fellow Indians that the newly formed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) does not affect any citizen of India of any religion. No Indian has anything to worry regarding this Act. This Act is only for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go except India,” he said, in a series of tweets.

The PM stated that groups with vested interests cannot be allowed to “divide and create disturbances in the country.”

Modi’s statement comes after massive protests against the controversial citizenship law escalated at two universities — Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh.

The protests in New Delhi followed a night of violent clashes between police and demonstrators at Jamia Millia Islamia University.

Student organisers said people who set three buses on fire were not students and police stormed the university library, firing tear gas at students crouched under desks.

On Monday, the students of Jamia formed a human chain outside the campus in protest against “police brutality”. Delhi University (DU) students also clashed with the police accusing them of using “excessive force” to control protests in Jamia on Sunday.

Addressing a press conference, Jamia Millia Islamia University Vice-Chancellor (VC) Najma Akhtar demanded a high-level inquiry into the crackdown on university students.

She said the police entered the campus on Sunday night without permission and assaulted students in the library.

“We will file an FIR against the entry of police in our university campus. You can rebuild the property but you cannot compensate for the things the students went through. We demand a high-level inquiry. We have list of 200 students injured during Sunday’s violence. This is unacceptable,” the VC said.

Reacting to allegations made by Akhtar, Delhi Police Public Relations Officer M S Randhawa said the police exercised “maximum restraint” and used “minimum force” against Jamia students.

“I firstly want to say that Jamia is not a unified campus. There are blocks on either side of the road. When the students came there, they were stopped and Delhi Police exercised maximum restraint. No casualties took place, no firing took place. Delhi Police used minimum force, our staff didn’t have arms at that time,” he said.

The Supreme Court on Monday said it will hear all matters related to the new citizenship law on December 18.

Meanwhile, Opposition parties including Congress have announced to intensify the campaign against the citizenship law. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra held a two-hour silent protest near India Gate to show solidarity with students of Jamia.