India’s students rage against ‘anti-Muslim’ law as protests sweep across campuses

Police use tear gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators

Students at India’s top universities have hit the streets after a violent showdown with police at the weekend over a new law that awards Indian nationality to non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries.

There were rallies at about 40 campuses across the country on Tuesday, including Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi, where Sunday’s clashes left dozens of students injured as police used tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators.

Students and Muslims across the country have been angered by the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act.

The act guarantees citizenship without papers to immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who belong to six major religions – except Islam, the faith of 200 million people in the country.

“We are silently protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act and police brutality on the students,” said Samreen, a student at Jamia Millia who participated in protests on Tuesday.

“Police are heavily deployed in and around the campus area. But we will continue our protest to make our voices heard.”

About 30 kilometres from the university, a silent demonstration against the law turned violent in a Muslim-majority neighbourhood when protesters poured into the streets and threw bricks at police lines.

Police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse the mob but were outnumbered by about 2,000 protesters.

At least two policemen were injured in the clashes and nearly 20 protesters were detained.

In Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu, police entered the campus of the Chennai University and interrupted students while they were deciding their next course of action after two days of protests over the police crackdown at Jamia.

With rallies rapidly spreading across the country and students’ anger simmering, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday that the Citizenship Amendment Act would have no effect on the citizenship of any Indian, no matter their religion.

But protesters say the law is anti-Muslim and discriminatory.

In India’s north-east, particularly Assam state, student unions have organised protests that were joined by locals against the law.

They fear it will reduce the inhabitants to a minority after Bangladeshi immigrants become citizens, threatening their language and culture.

“This law is unconstitutional,” said Afreen, a journalism student at Jamia Millia Islamia University. "No law has been made in the country on the basis of religion.

"Laws are based on human grounds. How did they exclude Muslims?"

More than 100 students were badly injured, some with severe fractures, while two suffered bullet wounds in the clashes on Sunday that erupted after a march outside the university gates against the law turned violent.

The clashes led to violent demonstrations in Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh the same evening, where students shouted slogans against the police action in New Delhi and threw stones at policemen.

Officers replied with tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowd. At least 60 students were injured.

The incidents eventually led to intensified protests across campuses in the country.

Student communities from top-notch colleges and universities have extended their support to the protesters.

Student unions have called for an all-India protest on Wednesday to demand a repeal of the law and action against police after the violent clashes.

“We are demanding a rollback of Citizenship Amendment Act and action against police in Delhi and Aligarh for their crackdown on students,” said Sandeep Saurav, president of the All India Student Association, which is organising the national rally.

“We expect hundreds of thousands of students joining the protests that will be seen from south to north to east and west India.”