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Gatherings banned in parts of India capital after demonstrations against 'anti-Muslim' citizenship law

Students and supporters hold placards as they protest outside a university in New Delhi [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 18 December, 2019

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Indian authorities banned gatherings in some Muslim areas in the capital as they stepped up efforts to contain protests against a citizenship law seen as discriminating against Muslims.

Authorities have imposed an emergency law banning large gatherings in parts of India's capital New Delhi after 12 policemen were injured in protests against a contentious new citizenship law.

Clashes across India following the passage of legislation that fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries have claimed six lives.

A day after intense protests rocked Delhi, police banned gatherings of more than four people in some Muslim-dominated areas in the mega city's northeast.

"In view of the protests on Tuesday prohibitory orders have been issued," a police official told AFP.

Police fired tear gas after thousands of protesters threw stones and set fire to at least two buses and a police outpost in Delhi's Seelampur district.

At least 21 people, including 12 policemen, were injured in the clashes.

Six people were arrested for rioting and arson, police police said Wednesday.

Another six people were arrested in eastern West Bengal state for hurling a bomb at policemen in Howrah city on Tuesday that injured seven officers.

Howrah police commissioner Gaurav Sharma told AFP his officers were attacked when they went to arrest protesters who vandalised a railway station.

Read more: Students clash on campuses as India's 'anti-Muslim' law protests spread

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has remained defiant in the face of the protests and said the law would not affect Indian nationals but protect persecuted Hindu, Sikh and other minorities from Muslim-majority neighbours.

Opponents say the law is a part of Modi's Hindu nationalist agenda to sideline the country's 200 million Muslims.

The new law is being challenged in the Supreme Court by rights groups and a Muslim political party, arguing that it is against the constitution and India's cherished secular traditions.

But India's Supreme Court on Wednesday postponed hearing pleas challenging its constitutionality, saying it would consider the pleas on 22 January.

More protests were planned later Wednesday across several states including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

Authorities have imposed internet blackouts and used force to shut down rallies and sit-ins, but protesters have vowed to keep up their fight until the law is revoked.

The law's passage last week follows a contentious process in northeastern India's Assam state intended to weed out people who entered the country illegally known as the National Register of Citizens, or NRC.

Nearly 2 million people in Assam were excluded from the list, about half-Hindu and half-Muslim, and have been asked to prove their citizenship or else be considered foreign.

India is building a detention center for some of the tens of thousands of people the courts are expected to ultimately determine have entered illegally. Modi's home minister, Amit Shah, has pledged to roll out the exercise nationwide.

Muslims - as well as defenders of India's secular tradition - are starting to panic, as seen in the current protests across the country of 1.3 billion people.

"The writing is on the wall. They want to build a Hindu nation along the lines of Israel... I feel as though this country is about to erupt," Zubair Azmi, 46, a Muslim lawyer based in Mumbai told AFP.

"I know secular Hindus who are fighting at our side... but their numbers are falling because other Hindus are believing the BJP's propaganda against Islam," he said.

Read more: Modi's Crusade: Citizenship Amendment Bill paves the way for an India without Islam

Ambreen Agha, a professor at the OP Jindal Global University in Sonipat, said the citizenship law follows other worrying events under Modi since he was re-elected in May.

In August, New Delhi revoked the partial autonomy of Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state.

In November the Supreme Court allowed a Hindu temple to be built in the flashpoint town of Ayodhya where Hindu zealots demolished a mosque in 1992.

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