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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9:52 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Around 60,000 take part in protests in Maharashtra state

As many as 60,000 people protested against the citizenship law in the city of Malegaon in Maharashtra state Thursday, police told Agence France-Presse.

Meanwhile, thousands amassed in India's largest city of Mumbai, also in Maharashtra, on Thursday.

Eyewitnesses told CNN they estimated up to 4,000 people took part in the protest in the southern part of Mumbai.

"We cannot stay silent or on the fringes anymore. We have to act now," Aman Verma, a financial advisor, told AFP.

"Something has changed. This is the first time in a long time that people in Mumbai have come out in such large numbers to register dissent," consultant Karishma V. told AFP.

Here are some images taken from the gathering in Mumbai:

8:43 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Delhi launched a free wifi scheme today. But an internet blackout caused it to be turned off.

New Delhi's Chief Minister chose the wrong day to launch a citywide free wifi scheme.

Soon after Arvind Kejriwal launched the program on Thursday, CNN's team in New Delhi noticed it had been turned off.

The government ordered the suspension of mobile and data services in parts of the capital as protests began, according local media reports.

On Thursday, telecoms company Vodafone India tweeted that its services had been suspended in several parts of New Delhi "as per the directive received from the government."

In a video shared on Twitter, Kejriwal voiced his concern about the citizenship act:

"Today, the state of law and order in the entire country, not just in Delhi, but in entire country, has been ruined," he said.

"All citizens are afraid they will be asked to prove they are citizens of this country," he said in reference to the fear that the act could pave the way for a nationwide citizenship test.

"The poor of our country don't have documents, more than 70% of the people in this country will not have any documents to show and they will be told to leave the country. Where will they go? This is our country. This is everyone's country. We were born here, our parents, grandparents, great grandparents, they were all born here, so where will they go?"
9:55 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Uttar Pradesh chief minister condemns violence

From CNN's Swati Gupta in New Delhi.

Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath (left) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath (left) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Around a dozen vehicles, including two buses, were burned down amid violence in India's biggest and most populous state, Uttar Pradesh.  

Yogi Adityanath, its chief minister, condemned violence on Thursday, accusing "unconstitutional elements" of "creating a state of fear" in a televised statement.

He reiterated the line of his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that the citizenship act does not target people based on "religion, caste, or creed, it gives security to every citizen of the country, the people who have come to this country, by assimilating them it takes forward the traditions of the country," he said.

In the city of Lucknow around 12 vehicles, including eight two-wheeled vehicles, a bus, and up to four vans, were burned, he said.

Adityanath said the perpetrators must pay for the damage caused. He is a polarizing Hindu religious leader, known for his provocative rhetoric against Muslims.

9:20 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Celebrity historian dragged away mid-interview

Celebrity historian Ramachandra Guha was dragged away by uniformed officers in the southern city of Bengaluru while in the middle of an interview with Indian broadcaster NDTV.

In a video shared by the channel, Guha struggled as he was hustled away by a group of police officers, who pushed him in the direction of a bus.

It is unclear what happened next. CNN has contacted Bengaluru police for more information. Guha has not answered CNN's calls.

The southern city of Bengaluru had denied permission for civil marches set for Thursday, after protests against the controversial new citizenship law turned violent in recent days.

In an attempt to quell protests, the city banned large gatherings for two days from Thursday.

7:13 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

People are protesting against the citizenship law -- for different reasons

Demonstrators in Agartala, in India's northeast state of Tripura, on December 10, 2019. Photo: Stringer/AFP via Getty Images
Demonstrators in Agartala, in India's northeast state of Tripura, on December 10, 2019. Photo: Stringer/AFP via Getty Images

People are all protesting against the citizenship bill that passed last week -- but for different reasons.

Muslim marginalization: The new law will make it more difficult for Muslim migrants to get Indian citizenship, so some critics are protesting that it is further marginalizing the Muslim community.

They're also worried it might pave the way for nationwide citizenship tests, stripping the rights of Muslims who have lived in India for generations but cannot prove their family's lineage -- making countless people stateless.

Influx of migrants: In the country's northeast, many indigenous groups 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.

These protests were especially strident in the states of Assam and Tripura, which both share a border with Bangladesh.

Images from protests last week show crowds holding signs that read, "We are Assamese and proud" and "Tripura is not the dumping ground of illegal migrants."

6:56 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Schools shut and missed flights

From CNN's Manveena Suri in New Delhi.

Heavy traffic in New Delhi has prompted airlines Air India and Indigo to offer a full refund for all outbound domestic and international flights on Thursday.

Meanwhile, many schools in the cities of New Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida will be shut tomorrow, according to several parents who spoke to CNN. 

11:28 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Images from the Delhi protest

From CNN's Swati Gupta in New Delhi.

Strong statements and heavy symbolism are on display as hundreds of people converge in central New Delhi -- in defiance of a ban on public gatherings.

Here are some pictures taken by CNN's team on the ground in New Delhi:

6:10 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Politician detained by police in New Delhi

The founder of Swaraj Abhiyaan, a group that organized the march in New Delhi, said he was detained by police around the Red Fort area of the city.

“I have just been detained from Lal Qila (Red Fort). About a thousand protesters already detained. Thousands on the way. Am told we are being taken to Bawana (police station), " Yogendra Yadav, who is the President of the political arm of the group, Swaraj India, wrote in a tweet Thursday.

"Common detainment, common sacrifice, common citizenship,” he wrote in Hindi.

A colonial-era law that prevents gatherings of four or more people -- known as Section 144 -- has been imposed in a number of areas in New Delhi in a bid to quell unrest.

Yadav told CNN before the march that "Section 144 being imposed by the police is an attempt to thwart our march. This will not deter us. We will gather there for our march."

6:52 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

The citizenship law will be a test of whether Modi has gone too far

From CNN's Tara John

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Brazil on November 14. Photo: Pavel Golovkin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Brazil on November 14. Photo: Pavel Golovkin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The newly adopted citizenship bill -- and the protests that have now followed -- present a high-stakes test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi's emphasis on empowering India's Hindu majority has long alarmed its Muslim minority. Modi's administration stripped the country's only Muslim-majority state of autonomy, and rolled out a citizenship check in Assam state, leaving nearly 2 million mostly Muslim people effectively stateless.

Now, the law seems to have pushed people over the edge, with violent protests spreading across multiple states.

A surprise challenge: The protests seem to have caught Modi somewhat off guard. The leader has enjoyed widespread support, even when his public initiatives have hurt citizens -- and the economy.

Even when Modi stripped Jammu and Kashmir -- India's only Muslim-majority state -- of its partial autonomy in August, few people took to the streets. This may explain why the government failed to anticipate the potential backlash to the citizenship bill.

Modi tried to reassure the public on Monday, saying on Twitter that the new law "does not affect any citizen of India of any religion" and that "no Indian has anything to worry" about.

But his words appear to have had little effect, with protests ramping up even more.