India blocks internet to quell protests over citizenship law

India blocks internet to quell protests over anti-Muslim citizenship law
3 min read
21 December, 2019
Internet shutdowns are a favoured tactic for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The death toll has continued to increase since protests erupted last week [Getty]
Indian authorities have stepped up phone and mobile internet shutdowns in some parts of the country in an effort to thwart a groundswell of protests over a new anti-Muslim citizenship law.

Communication blocks have been reported in areas of New Delhi, in the eastern state of West Bengal, the northern city of Aligarh and the entire state of Assam in the days since the contentious law was passed in parliament.

In Aligarh, where police beat students and fired tear gas shells inside a university last week, internet services were suspended for the sixth straight day.

The services were also barred in the capital of northern Uttar Pradesh, where nine people have been killed statewide in protests since Friday.

Meanwhile, internet services were restored in the northeastern border state of Assam, the centre of a decades-old movement against migrants from Bangladesh and where the protests began last week.

Internet shutdowns are a favoured tactic for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Authorities have interrupted internet services at least 102 times so far this year, according to a public online tracker maintained by the New Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Centre.

In 2018, the #KeepItOn coalition, which works with the support of 191 organisations globally, and the nonprofit group Access Now reported that of the 196 internet shutdowns reported from 25 countries, India was responsible for the majority, with 134 incidents - almost 67 percent of the world’s documented shutdowns.

Disquiet has been growing about the law, which was passed by parliament on December 11 and gives people from persecuted minorities from three neighbouring countries an easier path to citizenship - but not if they are Muslim.

Critics say the law discriminates against Muslims and is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu-nationalist agenda, a claim his political party has denied.

On Saturday, thousands of people joined fresh rallies against the contentious citizenship law in India on Saturday, with 20 killed so far in the unrest.

The death toll jumped after demonstrations turned violent on Friday in the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, leaving at least 11 dead including an eight-year-old boy, who was trampled.

On Saturday more protests began in cities including Chennai, capital of southern Tamil Nadu state, and Patna in eastern Bihar state. Crowds were also expected again in the national capital New Delhi.

Read more: Democracy languishes in Modi's anti-Muslim India

In northern Uttar Pradesh, Muslims make up almost 20 percent of the 200-million population.

The state's police spokesman Shirish Chandra told AFP that 10 people had died on Friday after being shot. "All of them were bullet fatalities. We are looking into other cases," he said.

The boy also died on Friday after 2,500 people including children joined a rally in the holy city of Varanasi, district police chief Prabhakar Chaudhary told AFP.

"When the police tried to quell the protests, these persons ran for cover and a stampede-like situation emerged, in which this boy died," Chaudhary said. 

He added that police "exercised complete restraint against the crowds that engaged in attacking them with stones”.

The Times of India said the boy was playing in a lane with a friend when they were trampled by a crowd being chased by police.

The unrest has also seen one other death in Uttar Pradesh and two in the southwestern state of Karnataka, while in Assam state in the northeast - where the wave of protests began last week - six people have been killed and dozens injured.

Police have opened fire during the protests, launched tear gas canisters, charged protesters with batons and detained hundreds of people across the vast nation amid the violence.

But demonstrators have vowed to keep up their fight until the law is revoked.

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