Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in India to oppose a new law that grants a path to citizenship for immigrants of every religion except Islam. Many say the law, passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government, discriminates against Muslims and undermines the country’s secular foundations.
The government, saying the protests are orchestrated by its opponents, has responded by banning gatherings of more than four people, partially shutting down the internet to make it more difficult to organize and detaining activists. Police have used baton charges, tear gas and sometimes live ammunition against protesters, leaving at least 23 dead nationwide.
The crackdown has been the harshest in the heartland state of Uttar Pradesh, where Muslims comprise 20% of the population of 200 million.
Relatives of eight of the 16 people who died on 20 December 2019 said their family members had been killed by police fire. Police deny using guns, but a smartphone video shows an officer firing at protesters in Meerut and residents of the city said they saw police firing weapons that day.
Five people died in Meerut, the highest toll anywhere that day. The city, about 80 kilometres northeast of New Delhi, was teeming with people marching toward a market intersection to protest after Friday prayers, residents said.
Soon officers resorted to baton charge and tear gas. Several residents said this was followed by gunfire, forcing people to scamper for safety. Hours later, the town convulsed in tragic news: Five men had died of gunshot wounds.
Police said they only used nonlethal weapons to disperse the crowd.
Residents in Meerut and Nehtaur say the deaths were followed by a police crackdown, deepening fear among Muslims. Others offered similar accounts elsewhere in the state, alleging police killings and vandalism. The police deny the charges.
CCTV surveillance video and mobile phone footage from Meerut shows officers vandalizing cars and motorbikes, breaking house windows and dragging people in the streets after making arrests. Police could also be seen destroying CCTV cameras in one place.
Many believe that Adityanath, the state’s chief minister, is following Modi's path of Hindu nationalism.
Activists who visited the state on fact-finding mission days after the deaths accused police of a "reign of terror" and "brazenly targeting" Muslims.
Darul Ihsan Media Desk