Mobile internet was cut on Friday in parts of India’s most populous state and thousands of riot police were deployed as authorities readied for fresh protests over a citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim.
Twenty-seven people have died in two weeks of at times violent demonstrations after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government made it easier for non-Muslims from three countries to be naturalised.
Coupled with a mooted citizens register, it has stoked fears including in Washington and the UN rights office about the marginalisation of Muslims who make up 14 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people.
This week a German student was also asked to leave after taking part in demonstrations in the southern city of Chennai, according to media reports
Modi, facing his biggest challenge since storming to power in 2014, said on Sunday that Muslims whose “ancestors are the children of mother India” had nothing to fear.
He has also said that the citizenship law is a humanitarian move, giving refuge to persecuted religious minorities from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
There is an #internetshutdown happening in Delhi where a march to protest #CABBill2019 is going on. Section 144 in Bangalore A blatant attempt to not let the voice of protesters reach anywhere in the country! If this is not violation of article 19, don't know what is.
— Nehmat (@Nehmat_K) December 19, 2019
But it has unleashed a wave of protests across the country, and not just by Muslims, with several state governments saying they will refuse to implement the legislation.
Officials in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 20 percent of people are Muslims, said they have suspended mobile internet and SMS services in 21 districts out of 75 including the state capital Lucknow.
#Modi is turning the "World's Largest #Democracy" into the "World's Largest Police State." In #India, anti-#Hindutva dissent leads to cut phone lines, no #Internet, & #BJP thugs killing protestors with impunity. #ModiMadness is full of #Orwellian horrors.https://t.co/uuStSssa1j
— Prof. Steve Hanke (@steve_hanke) December 23, 2019
Read more: India’s protesters: a cross-section of society
Access to data on cellphones was only restored in many areas on Tuesday following a week-long cutoff in a country that activists say is the world leader in snapping internet access.
The state, home to India’s best-known tourist site the Taj Mahal, witnessed large-scale clashes after Muslim prayers last Friday between largely Islamic protesters and police. Nineteen people were killed, mostly from gunshot wounds. An eight-year-old child was trampled to death in a stampede in the holy city of Varanasi, Modi’s home constituency.
Weakest Govt ever witnessed in my life.
Taking preventive custody
Block the means of transport
Snap telco service in protesting areas
ur not surprised to know it is happening in Delhi#internetshutdown
— Dancing🍌Democray (@Dimocrazy) December 19, 2019
Heavy-handed police tactics have fuelled anger, with many accusing authorities of arbitrary force against dissenters. On Friday thousands of armed policemen were patrolling Muslim-dominated localities across several districts ahead of the weekly congregational prayers.
The protests in the state, whose chief minister is a Hindu monk from Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, are among the biggest there in decades. Police in the state have arrested more than 1,000 people and taken more than 5,000 others into preventive custody, some of them as young as 16 according to media reports.
An eight-year-old child was trampled to death in a stampede in the holy city of Varanasi, Modi’s home constituency
About 200 people have been ordered to pay compensation for damage caused to public property during the protests, failing which their assets will be confiscated.
More than 100 people have also been booked over social media posts deemed to be objectionable or misleading, with tens of thousands of messages on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms reported.
Read more: WhatsApp wars over India protests divide families
Authorities are also keeping a close eye on foreigners with a Norwegian tourist who took part in a protest in the southern state of Kerala told to leave the country, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
This week a German student was also asked to leave after taking part in demonstrations in the southern city of Chennai, according to media reports.
Photos on social media purportedly of the student, named as Jakob Lindenthal, showed him carrying a placard saying “1933-1945 We have been there”, in reference to his country’s Nazi past.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk.