India deployed thousands of police and shut down mobile internet services across many cities on Friday to control protests against a new citizenship law, with flashpoint Friday prayers passing largely peacefully.
Security was particularly tight in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 19 people have been killed since the protests began on Dec. 12, out of at least 25 deaths nationwide.
Authorities had feared that large crowds could gather after the weekly Muslim congregational prayers. Demonstrations were held after Friday prayers in Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Mumbai, but there were no major reports of violence.
In Meerut, where five people were killed after violence last Friday, there were no gatherings. Nearly 3,000 police were deployed, four times more than last week, the city’s police chief told Reuters.
The legislation makes it easier for minorities from India’s Muslim majority neighbours – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – who settled before 2015 to get citizenship but does not make the same concessions for Muslims. Critics say the law – and plans for a national citizenship register – discriminate against Muslims and are an attack on the country’s secular constitution by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The government has said no citizen will be affected and that there are no imminent plans for a register.
On Friday, mobile internet services were ordered shut in many parts of Uttar Pradesh, including in the provincial capital, Lucknow, the state government said.
In the national capital, New Delhi, police imposed an emergency law in some parts of the city, forbidding large gatherings, news channels reported. Such prohibitions have been in place in Uttar Pradesh for more than a week.
Thousands of demonstrators, waving Indian flags and holding placards rejecting the new law, protested peacefully in Bengaluru city amid a heavy police presence.
“I am here because the NRC is wrong,” said Iqbal Ahmed, 42, a Muslim carpet seller and one of the protesters, referring to the register of citizens. “This is our land and I am from here. … Are we not Indian?”
Muslims, India’s second biggest community by religion, account for about 14 per cent of its 1.3 billion people.
Some parts of the country also saw rallies in favour of the new citizenship law but were outnumbered by demonstrations and protests against the legislation.
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