Indians march during a protest against the Citizenship Act in Mumbai, India, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday postponed hearing pleas challenging the constitutionality of the new citizenship law that has sparked opposition and massive protests across the country. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)
Demonstrations erupted once again across India on Wednesday following a decision by the country’s Supreme Court to postpone hearing challenges to a controversial new immigration law that grants citizenship on the basis of religion.
Under the law that was passed by India’s parliament last week, religious minorities such as Hindus, Christians, and Buddhists from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan who came to India before 2015 will have a pathway to Indian citizenship on the grounds that they were being persecuted in the Muslim-majority countries.
That didn’t sit well with some and has led to protests throughout the Asian nation. Critics claim the new law is just the latest effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims and say his actions are a violation of the country’s secular constitution.
On Wednesday, protests broke out in Gauhati, Chennai as well as in Mumbai, India’s financial capital. Demonstrators also rallied in Srinagar, the main city in disputed Kashmir, as well as in the tourist hub of Jaipur in Rajasthan. In Kochi, the capital of the southernmost state of Kerela, people threw stones at buses.
Many of the demonstrations were student-led. Hundreds chanted outside New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University where three days earlier police charged unarmed students with sticks and tear gas.
Critics also claim the Citizenship Amendment Act is the most overt example of discrimination against Muslims in a string of actions taken by Modi since his party’s landslide reelection victory in May.
It follows a contentious registration process in northeastern Assam state intended to weed out people who entered the country illegally, known as the National Register of Citizens, or NRC. Nearly 2 million people in Assam were excluded from the list — about half Hindu and half Muslim, and have been asked to prove their citizenship or else be considered foreign.
India is building a detention center for some of the tens of thousands of people the courts are expected to ultimately determine have entered illegally. Modi’s home minister, Amit Shah, has pledged to roll out the system nationwide.
Indian students of the Jamia Millia Islamia University shout slogans as they march during a protest, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday postponed hearing pleas challenging the constitutionality of the new citizenship law that has sparked opposition and massive protests across the country. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
In Kolkata, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has been known to jump into scandals and seek publicity to benefit herself, led a rally on Dec. 15 to protest the new rule.
Some state officials have accused Banerjee of wasting public money on TV campaign ads criticizing the law instead of making sure the police have enough resources to curb state-wide arson related to the protests.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.