Muslim Students Throughout India Protest Religious Persecution Protections for Minorities

Students of Jamia Millia Islamia University stage a protest against the government's Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in New Delhi on December 13, 2019. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Protests against India’s new citizenship law at Jamia Millia Islamia University on Sunday turned violent as over a hundred activists battled police.

At least six injuries and several incidents of arson were reported along with 34 arrests. More protests were reported at universities across India on Monday, in part driven by anger over harsh police tactics used against the Jamia Millia Islamia students.

The controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill passed by the Indian parliament last week makes it easier for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, and a few other religious groups to immigrate from the neighboring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. Muslims pointedly are not on the list of refugees to receive favorable treatment, as they are the majority in those countries.

Police and paramilitary forces stormed Jamia Millia Islamia University after several hours of student protests on Sunday, deploying tear gas inside the campus. Videos taken inside the university showed police beating students with batons despite female students attempting to protect the young men. At some point during the chaos, smoke filled the university library, possibly due to the tear gas canisters launched by the police.

“It is not expected of the police to enter the university and beat up students,” said Jamia Vice Chancellor Najma Akhtar, announcing the school intends to file a case against the police and demand a full investigation. All of the students detained at the university were subsequently released by the police, but the university advised its students to leave the campus for their safety and announced it would close early for the winter break.

Protests began breaking out at other universities overnight and spread to dozens of campuses on Monday, with some students boycotting their exams to participate. Angry demonstrators at Nadwa College in Lucknow threw stones at the police, who reportedly picked the stones up and threw them back. 

Back at Jamia, students emerged shirtless into freezing-cold weather to protest the police raid. Opposition politicians denounced the actions of the police as “brutal” and “an attack on the soul of India.”

Police spokespersons said dozens of vehicles were damaged during the Jamia protests and reported one of their officers is being treated in intensive care for injuries suffered during the clash. 

Jamia student organizers issued a statement insisting “our protests are peaceful and non-violent” and blaming “outsiders” for any violence that occurred. Some eyewitnesses claimed unknown “youths wearing masks” entered the campus and provoked students with “emotive slogans,” leading to the clash with police.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm on Monday and said there was no reason to agitate against the new citizenship law.

“No Indian has anything to worry regarding this act. This act is only for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go except India,” Modi said.

“This is the time to maintain peace, unity, and brotherhood,” he urged.

The Indian Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing challenges against the citizenship law this week. The exclusion of Muslims from the list of preferred religious groups will likely be challenged by citing the Indian constitution’s requirement for equal treatment.

The Modi government says Muslims are not persecuted minorities in the three neighboring countries named in the law, so they do not require special treatment as refugees. Some non-Muslims living in border areas have protested the law because they fear it will usher in a flood of refugees that could “overrun” their regions.

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