Protests over a new citizenship law based on religion spread to student campuses across India on Monday as critics said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was pushing a partisan agenda in conflict with India’s founding as a secular republic.
Anger with Modi’s Hindu nationalist government was further fuelled by allegations of police brutality at Jamia Millia Islamia university on Sunday, when officers entered the campus in New Delhi and fired tear gas to break up a protest. At least 100 people were injured in the clashes there.
There were similar scenes at the Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh, where police also clashed with protesters on the campus.
Hundreds of activists gathered outside the Delhi Police headquarters on Sunday night to protest against alleged police brutality and the detention of students.
The most violent protests during the past few days took place in Assam, where mobs torched buildings and train stations, angry the law would help thousands of immigrants from Bangladesh to become lawful citizens. At least two people were killed in the violent clashes with police.
Under the law passed by parliament last week, religious minorities such as Hindus and Christians in neighbouring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who have settled in India prior to 2015 will have a path to Indian citizenship on grounds they faced persecution in those countries.
Critics say the law, which does not make the same provision for Muslims, weakens India’s secular foundations.
Protests were held in Mumbai’s Indian Institute of Technology and Tata Institute of Social Sciences overnight and on Monday and more were planned at Bombay University and in Bengaluru later in the day.
Students said they also stood in solidarity with fellow students in Delhi who clashed with police in Delhi on Sunday.
“The country is burning, the government has made a mockery of the constitution,” said D. Raja, a general secretary of the Communist Party of India.
Some Bollywood celebrities like actress Konkona Sen Sharma, and directors Mahesh Bhatt and Anubhav Sinha, also criticized the police action on Twitter, and called on others to speak up.
“We are with the students! Shame on you @DelhiPolice,” Sen Sharma tweeted.
Anger with Modi’s Hindu nationalist government over the citizenship act has erupted for two reasons. In Assam, and other northeastern states bordering Bangladesh, people are upset over the impact that a large influx of migrants is having on society, and the pressure it places on their land.
In New Delhi and other urban centres, opposition political activists and student leaders are angry over the law that they say erodes India’s secular foundations.
Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party denies any religious bias but says it is opposed to the appeasement of one community. It says the new law is meant to help minority groups facing persecution in the three nearby Muslim countries.
Modi has said the law has been passed by parliament and there is no going back on it. He told a rally on Sunday the decision was “1000 percent correct.”