Protests rage across India over citizenship law

By Helen Regan and Manveena Suri, CNN

Updated 12:04 p.m. ET, December 19, 2019
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5:29 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

India is the world leader in internet blackouts

Analysis from CNN's James Griffiths in Hong Kong

Phone services have been cut in New Delhi and internet reception is down in other parts of the country amid widespread protests against India's controversial citizenship law.

For residents of the country's more restive areas, particularly Indian-controlled Kashmir, this is a familiar experience. India leads the world in terms of internet blackouts, cutting off mobile and broadband web access more than any other country.

Kashmir shutdown: An ongoing internet blackout in Indian-controlled Kashmir is now the longest ever in a democracy -- at more than 135 days -- according to Access Now, an advocacy group which tracks internet freedom.

Kashmiris have been without internet access for so long that WhatsApp has reportedly begun deleting their accounts for inaction. Some residents were unaware even of the cause for the blackout -- India's rewriting of the constitution to remove Kashmir's protected autonomy -- and Kashmiris have been largely removed from the conversation since then, so difficult is it for people in the region to get their messages out. 

David Kaye, the UN's special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, has described the ongoing shutdown in Kashmir as a "communications siege" and "collective punishment without even the allegation of an underlying offense."

A violation of rights: Internet shutdowns breach key rights guaranteed by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other key international treaties.

Having rights and enforcing them are quite different, however. In India, some individual shutdowns have been challenged in the courts, and there is an ongoing effort to change the country's law on internet shutdowns to make them more difficult to impose.

Internet shutdowns are a growing trend around the world -- a piece in the Chinese state-run People's Daily this week said that India's example showed "shutting down the internet in a state of emergency should be standard practice for sovereign countries."

5:11 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Here's where protests are taking place

Protests against a controversial citizenship law are planned in at least 15 Indian cities today including the capital New Delhi.

Protesters form a human chain in New Delhi
Protesters form a human chain in New Delhi Manveena Suri/CNN

New Delhi: In the Indian capital, protests are taking place in several areas around the city including the historic Red Fort and Jantar Mantar, which is a popular protest site. 

Bengalaru: Protests in the southern city of Bengalaru have resulted in at least 70 arrests. 

Lucknow: In India's biggest and most populous state Uttar Pradesh, demonstrators defied restrictions in the capital Lucknow. Police said protesters threw stones in the Hasanganj area of the city. 

Protesters defy bans on public gatherings in New Delhi.
Protesters defy bans on public gatherings in New Delhi. Manveena Suri/CNN

Other protests are kicking off or planned in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Patna, Varanasi, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, and other regions.

4:50 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

What is the Citizenship Amendment Act?

Protesters gather in New Delhi against a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims.
Protesters gather in New Delhi against a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims. Manveena Suri/CNN

Public anger is mounting over a controversial citizenship law that was passed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week.

But what is the law and why is it so controversial?

Indian citizenship: The law promises to fast-track Indian citizenship for religious minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who arrived before 2015.

Protecting refugees: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government said the law will protect religious minorities who fled persecution in their home countries.

Anti-Muslim: Critics, however, say the law marginalizes Muslims and undermines the country's secular constitution.

Wider fears: Many Indian Muslims have linked the new law to Indian Home Minister Amit Shah's repeated promise to implement a nationwide register of citizens, a process by which residents will need to provide the government with evidence that they are living in India legally. The government has insisted that the policy is intended only to root out illegal immigrants. So far the registry has only been implemented in Assam, where earlier this year, an estimated 1.9 million people were excluded from the list -- the majority of whom were Muslim, and therefore not protected under the new citizenship law.

Protests for different reasons: The law has sparked widespread opposition, especially in the country's northeastern states. Many indigenous groups there fear that giving citizenship to large numbers of immigrants, who came over the porous border with Bangladesh following independence in 1971, would change the unique ethnic make-up of the region and their way of life, regardless of religion.

4:42 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Transport and phone service have been shut down in Delhi

Transport has been disrupted and selective cell phone services have been shut down as protests get underway in the capital.

Telecoms company Vodafone India tweeted earlier today that its services were suspended in several parts of the capital city New Delhi "as per the directive received from the government."

This comes amid multiple local media reports that the government ordered the suspension of mobile and data services across the city.

Vodafone tweeted in a reply to a customer that services were stopped in six locations. CNN has reached out to local authorities for confirmation.

Several Delhi metro stations were also closed in areas near to the planned protest route, with Delhi Metro Rail Corporation citing "sudden safety and security reasons."

4:38 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Demonstrators say they have a right to protest

From CNN's Manveena Suri in New Delhi

Police and security forces gather near Red Fort, New Delhi, at a demonstration on December 19, 2019.
Police and security forces gather near Red Fort, New Delhi, at a demonstration on December 19, 2019. SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images

Crowds have gathered outside New Delhi's iconic Red Fort in defiance of a rarely evoked colonial-era ban prohibiting gatherings of four or more people.

People there say they have a right to protest.

"What they're doing is wrong. We oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act. We oppose not being allowed to protest. We are Indian and Muslim. We can be both. All religions can live in India," said local Delhi resident Rubina Zafar.

And it's not just Muslims who are protesting the law in the capital.

Sidharth Singh, 23, said he is a Hindu but opposes the law and what he described as a growing sense of divisiveness.

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

Singh said he supported Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he was first elected in 2014. But he is not happy with how India is now being governed.

"We saw hope. He (Modi) would put India on progressive path. But five years down the line? Our social fabric has been disturbed. They have outrightly divided two communities," he said.

4:30 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Here's what you need to know

People at a demonstration in New Delhi on December 19, 2019.
People at a demonstration in New Delhi on December 19, 2019. MONEY SHARMA/AFP via Getty Images

Protests are kicking off in major cities across India today, as public anger over a controversial new citizenship law considered by many to be discriminatory against Muslims continues to build.

Here's what you need to know:

What's happening: Protests are expected in 15 cities including the capital New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengalaru, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai, despite strict government bans on public gatherings in several areas.

What's fueling the protests: Nation-wide anger over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was signed into law last week is mounting. The law promises to fast-track Indian citizenship for religious minorities from three neighboring countries who arrived before 2015 -- but not if they are Muslim. Critics say the law is unconstitutional and would further marginalize India's 200-million strong minority Muslim community.

Gatherings banned: Authorities have imposed a colonial-era law that prevents gatherings of four or more people -- known as Section 144 -- in three areas. The ban is in place around New Delhi's Red Fort, where protesters are gathering, and across the entire states of Karnataka, which includes the state capital Bengalaru, and Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state.

Ongoing violence: Protests in opposition to the law have become violent in recent days, with police firing tear gas and storming a prestigious university in New Delhi, and protesters clashing with police in the streets. In the northeastern state of Assam protests have turned deadly, with at least five people killed, according to local authorities.