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December 30, 2019

Indian Citizenship law: UP police register criminal case against 1,000 students

Top Story

December 30, 2019

LUCKNOW: Police have registered a case against 1,000 unidentified students of the Aligarh Muslim University in connection with violence that broke out during the anti-CAA protests earlier this month, according to foreign media.

The cops had first claimed the first information report (FIR) had been registered against 10,000 students but the reporting agency subsequently quoted a senior UP police officer as saying “there was a clerical mistake... case against 1,000 students and not 10,000”.

“They unlawfully raised anti-national slogans. The students pelted stones on personnel and vandalised official vehicles,” the FIR said, according to the news agency. It also stated the police had been instructed to use minimal force. “When they did not disperse, tear gas and less intensity lathi-charge was done".

The students have been charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act and Criminal Law Amendment Act.

Hundreds of Aligarh students had taken out a solidarity march around midnight on December 15 after a peaceful protest by counterparts in Delhi's Jamia Millia ended in a pitched battle with the police, who were accused of disproportionate force after a brutal crackdown that included barging into the campus and detaining around 100 students.

As the Aligarh students began their protest, UP cops tried to stop them at the university gates; they used batons, tear gas and water cannons. However, disturbing visuals emerged the following day, showing cops smashing bikes and students.

OP Singh, the state’s Director-General of Police, told the media his colleagues had displayed restraint. However, that statement was contrary to multiple testimonies from students who claimed cops barged into hostels, fired tear gas inside rooms and vandalised furniture and vehicles.

Many students were injured — activists put the number at 150 — in the police action and one, the son of a daily-wage labourer, lost his arm. Several cops were also injured. The anti-government protests have also hit India’s tourism industry hard with at least seven countries issuing travel warnings.

At least 25 people have been killed in clashes between police and protesters, and demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Israel, Singapore, Canada and Taiwan have issued travel advisories asking their citizens to either refrain from visiting or to exercise caution when visiting regions embroiled in India's protests.

Officials estimate that in the past two weeks, about 200,000 domestic and international tourists cancelled or postponed their trips to the Taj Mahal, one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions.

Thousands of Indians have been protesting against a new citizenship law as well as possible plans for a National Register of Citizens (NRC), alleging the measures are an attack on a secular constitution and against minority Muslims, a British wire agency reported on Sunday.

The CAA aims to fast-track citizenship for persecuted Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who arrived in India before Dec. 31, 2014, from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The passing of the bill on Dec. 11 triggered widespread demonstrations in Assam. Elsewhere in India, protesters say the citizenship law will be followed by the national register, which they fear is designed by the government to expel Muslims who do not have sufficient citizenship documentation.

The government has refuted those allegations and vowed to protect all citizens equally. Why is the Citizenship Act controversial? Under the law, India will grant citizenship to the six communities that Modi's government says have historically faced persecution in the three Muslim-dominated neighbours. The government says Muslims cannot be treated as persecuted minorities in those countries.

Critics say the law discriminates against Muslims and undermines India's secular constitution. They question why the law does not include Muslims fleeing Sri Lanka and Myanmar, which are majority Buddhist.

What is the National Register of Citizens? Authorities in Assam began using the NRC to identify illegal immigrants in 2015, on the orders of the Supreme Court. It was only meant to be used for the ethnically-diverse region but since then, there have been calls from officials of the ruling party and its supporters for its nationwide implementation.

A final list of citizens in Assam, published on Aug. 31, excluded nearly 1.9 million residents. There was no official breakdown of that figure by religion.

What would a pan-India NRC look like?

The 2019 manifesto of Modi's hardliner ruling Bharatia Janata Party (BJP) said "in future we will implement the NRC in a phased manner in other parts of the country" but did not provide details.

If a nationwide NRC is enacted, activists and opposition politicians expect that residents unable to prove citizenship would be taken to detention centres, as is happening in Assam.

Most of India's 1.3 billion people are Hindu, about 14% are Muslim and the rest are Christians, Buddhists and others.

In Assam, excluded people were given 120 days to prove their citizenship at quasi-judicial bodies known as Foreigners Tribunals. Those deemed to be illegal immigrants can appeal to higher courts.

Modi's laws

Religious minorities and liberals are growing increasingly uneasy with Modi's Hindu agenda, which appears to have gained emphasis since his re-election in May.

The citizenship bill comes after a November Supreme Court decision that handed Hindu groups control of a contested site where a 16th-century Babri Masjid was razed by Hindu zealots in 1992, paving the way for the construction of a temple there, as long promised by the BJP.

That followed a government decision in August to strip Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state of its special status and split it into two federally administered regions in what the government said was a bid to integrate the restive region with the rest of India.

What happens next?

The CAA has been challenged in the Supreme Court by a Muslim political party, lawyers and rights groups on the grounds that it violates the secular constitution.

The Supreme Court has said it would hear petitions challenging the law on Jan. 22.

On Sunday, Modi said his government had no immediate plans for a countrywide NRC, but his comments contradicted statements by his closest lieutenant, Home Minister Amit Shah who also happens to be the BJP president. Government officials have not clarified the position.