India extends controls on protests after day of deadly violence

Updated 5:39 AM EST, Fri December 20, 2019
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(CNN) —  

Protesters in India have vowed more civil action against a new citizenship law, even as the Indian government extends sweeping controls on protests and imposes internet shutdowns following deadly country-wide demonstrations.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in at least 15 cities across the country, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata on Thursday in a show of nationwide public anger against the law considered by many to be unconstitutional and discriminatory against Muslims.

At least two people died in the protests, which saw violent pitched battles between police and protesters in several cities, including Ahmedabad, Mangaluru, and Lucknow. Police fired tear gas, water cannons and used batons against protesters who pelted stones, vandalized and set fire to buildings and buses. Thousands of people were arrested.

Following Thursday’s violence, police in the country’s largest and most populous state Uttar Pradesh, where one person died in violent protests, have enforced a law banning public gatherings of four or more people for the next 15 days.

The colonial-era restrictions – known as Section 144 – will be imposed across the entire state, Avnish Awasthi, senior official in the Uttar Pradesh Home Department told CNN.

Internet services in the state capital Lucknow will also remain suspended until Saturday evening, after protesters set fire to buildings and clashed with police on Thursday.

“Yesterday, internet connectivity in 73 districts was shut down,” Awasthi said. “For the rest of the districts in the states, district officials are making individual decisions.”

In the capital New Delhi, section 144 remained in place in three key protest areas Friday, police said.

On Thursday at least one telecoms provider said it was directed to suspend services in six areas of the capital during the protests. It was the first time mobile and internet services had been cut in the capital.

Violence, deaths and arrests

On Thursday, two people died from injuries sustained during a protest in the city of Mangalore, in the southern state of Karnataka, a senior doctor at the Highland Hospital told CNN.

One more person died from firearm injuries in Lucknow city, the capital of northern Uttar Pradesh state, according to a senior doctor at the King George Medical University in the city.

Additional Director General of Uttar Pradesh police, P.V. Ramasastry, told CNN that the death in Lucknow was not directly related to the protests.

Some 3,600 people were arrested as a preventative measure in Uttar Pradesh, police said. In Lucknow, 112 preventive arrests were made while 50 people were booked and arrested under various charges.

In the capital New Delhi, 1,200 people were detained for violating a ban on public gatherings. Police told CNN on Friday those people have been released without charge.

Despite the bans, further protests are planned on Friday at the capital’s Jamia Milia Islamia University – which was the scene of violent clashes between police and protesters on Sunday, and a march from the Jama Masjid – one of the largest mosques in India – to the iconic India Gate, in central Delhi.

At the center of the unrest is the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was passed into law last week. The law that promises to fast-track citizenship for non-Muslim religious minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who arrived before 2015.

The government, ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said the law will provide safe haven for religious minorities who fled persecution in their home countries. Critics say it undermines the country’s secular constitution as it bases citizenship on a person’s religion and would further marginalize India’s 200-million strong Muslim community.

The Indian government had sought to quell any unrest over the law’s passing by banning protests and shutting down the internet and mobile services in several parts of the country.

Many of who marched told CNN the government was using the bans on public gatherings to muzzle the voices of Indian people in the world’s largest democracy.

“I have my freedom to protest. It is my fundamental right,” said New Delhi student Sidharth Singh, 23. “This is not democracy. Why does the government think it is higher than the constitution?”

Thursday’s deaths brings the total to at least seven, after five people were confirmed to have died in ongoing protests in the northeastern state of Assam.

Protests in the northeast are different from the rest of the country, however. Many indigenous groups there fear that giving citizenship to large numbers of immigrants would change the unique ethnic make-up of the region and their way of life, regardless of religion.

Troops were deployed and and internet shut down in several northeastern states amid the protests. On Friday senior Assam official G.P. Singh told CNN, “The mobile internet has been restored” there.