Indians in UAE worry for families at home as protests erupt against citizenship law

Some cancel holiday plans as UAE embassy issues travel warning

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Ramola Talwar: Mansoor Ali. Families in UAE canceling plans to travel to India due to protests over new citizenship bill. Monday, December 16th, 2019. Muhaisnah, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Indian residents in the UAE cancelled trips home and told of their worry for family members as protests swept across India for a fifth day.

Expatriates due to return home for the winter school break watched social media videos of vehicles ablaze and angry demonstrations in their home towns.

University students across the country clashed with police at protests on Monday, a day after at least 50 were injured in Delhi.

Demonstrators are angry at a new law offering citizenship to non-Muslim migrants including Christians and Hindus from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who settled in India before 2015.

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My wife and kids felt it's not safe and I did not want to go back when there is this atmosphere in my country

Citizenship would be granted on the grounds that they faced persecution in those countries.

Critics claim the law weakens the country’s secular foundations and does not make the same provisions for Muslims, while others fear it will lead to large-scale migration to India.

Mansoor Ali, 51, a health and safety manager in Dubai, was due to take his family home to Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday.

Mr Ali cancelled their five airline tickets when dozens of students from Aligarh Muslim University were injured in clashes with police on Sunday.

“I could not sleep properly last night when I read about the violence," he said.

"It’s not just in my university but there are other places that there has been trouble. It is really shameful what is happening over this bill.

“We were all in a vacation mood but now everyone is upset. My wife and kids felt it’s not safe and I did not want to go back when there is this atmosphere in my country."

The trouble in Aligarh began when the students tried to take their march outside campus grounds and were stopped by police at the university gates.

Officers said an order banning protests on the streets was in place across the state.

M Khan, 35, an architect and former student of Aligarh Muslim University, was due to fly to Delhi for the first time in five years to see friends and colleagues.

After seeing images of the trouble on the streets, Mr Khan decided to avoid Delhi and return home to Kanpur to see his parents.

"I am very concerned and Indian residents in the UAE are worried about what is happening back home," he said.

"I spent the night in fear yesterday as my friends were sharing videos of what the police were doing at Aligarh Muslim University.

"My juniors were sending SOS messages and saying their lives were in danger."

But other UAE residents due to travel home were defiant.

Zubair Irshad, a construction consultant in Dubai and a former student of Jamia Millia Islamia University, where protests were also held, refused to cancel his family's travel plans to Delhi, even though they live close to the clashes.

"We have to be brave to face the situation and cannot turn our back on the situation," Mr Irshad said.

Sharjah resident Adil Akhtar also refused to cancel his plans to travel to Aligarh.

“Why should I cancel? Why should I run away?” asked the civil engineer and past student of Aligarh.

Mr Akhtar was angry that police were using excessive force against students on campus.

“If the students have done something wrong, the university authorities should deal with it and not the police," he said.

"Why should police enter an academic institution unless there are criminals or terrorists to catch?”

City police smashed bikes on the streets and fired tear gas shells from the campus gate, NDTV reported.

On Monday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm after days of trouble.

"No Indian has anything to worry regarding this act," Mr Modi wrote on Twitter. "This act is only for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go except India.

"This is the time to maintain peace, unity and brotherhood."