Six more protesters died in India Friday in fresh clashes between police and demonstrators, taking the death toll to 15 in more than a week of unrest triggered by a citizenship law seen as anti-Muslim.
The law — which makes it easier for persecuted minorities from three neighbouring countries to gain citizenship, but not if they are Muslim — has stoked fears Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to remould the world’s biggest democracy India as a Hindu nation, which he denies.
The latest deaths, in northern Uttar Pradesh where almost 20 percent of the state’s 200-million population are Muslim, followed the loss of three lives on Thursday when police opened fire on protesters in the northern city of Lucknow and the southern city of Mangalore.
Four of the demonstrators — two from Meerut and two from neighbouring Muzaffarnagar, both in Uttar Pradesh — died Friday from “gunshot wounds”, Meerut chief medical officer Rajkumar told AFP.
Rajkumar, who goes by one name, added that five police officers, including three with bullet wounds, were being treated in hospital.
In the heart of India’s capital demonstrators held a sit-in protest at the Delhi Gate in the Old Delhi district, then marched to the country’s biggest mosque Jama Masjid in the afternoon.
The protesters later returned to Delhi Gate, where they clashed with baton-wielding police who deployed a water cannon to disperse the crowd.
West Bengal state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, addressing a rally of more than 20,000 people in the state capital Kolkata Friday, said she “will not allow the federal government to implement” the law.
“India is burning. This is time for waking up,” she said, urging people to unite behind her movement.
More than 200 Christian leaders in India issued a joint statement Friday saying the laws passed since the BJP was re-elected in May have led “to the collapse of the democratic institutions of India… carefully and painstakingly built by enlightened leaders over the last seven decades”.
In a strongly worded editorial, the Indian Express said the government must do all it can “to keep the peace” in the country, home to 200 million Muslims.
“But in doing so the world’s largest democracy cannot look like it cannot accommodate its young who disagree, it cannot afford to signal that it is so ill at ease with itself.
“India risks a lot if it begins to be seen as a place where the dissenter’s mind is not without fear.”