At least two people are dead after police opened fire at a demonstration, an official said Thursday, as fresh protests erupted across India against a contentious citizenship law that critics say is anti-Muslim.
The men — Abdul Jalil, 49, and Shamshir Kudroli, 23 — “died in police firing during the protests”, Qadir Shah, a spokesman for the deputy commissioner of the southern city of Mangalore, told AFP, adding that a curfew had been imposed in the city with schools, restaurants, and bars shut.
Another man taken to the King George’s Medical University Trauma Centre in Lucknow in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh with a gunshot injury died soon after, a hospital source told AFP. His death has not been confirmed by local police, but his father told the Times of India newspaper his son was shot after getting caught in a crowd of protesters while he was out to buy groceries.
Four others were being treated at a hospital in Mangalore “with bullet injuries following the clashes”, a district medical officer told AFP. Shah said police fired their weapons after some 200 demonstrators refused to stop their march.
“They marched towards the busiest area of Mangala. This led to lathi (big, wooden sticks) charge. Then the tear gas was fired. When the protestors still didn’t stop, the police had to open fire after that,” he said, using an alternate name for the city.
Security forces and protesters had clashed in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka state, while elsewhere police bundled demonstrators onto buses, shuttered Delhi metro stations and cut cellphone access in some areas.
The protests were sparked by a new law easing citizenship rules for people fleeing persecution from three neighboring countries but not Muslims, stoking accusations at home and abroad that Modi wants to reshape India as a Hindu nation, which he denies.
Seven months after Modi swept to a second term, the past week has seen six other people killed in the northeastern state of Assam and dozens injured, while on Thursday, authorities banned gatherings across swathes of the world’s biggest democracy that together are home to hundreds of millions of people.
– Demonstrators dragged –
Fresh violence erupted in Sambal, Uttar Pradesh, where hundreds of protesters set fire to vehicles and threw stones at security forces who responded with tear gas, local police chief Yamuna Prasad told AFP. In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, police said they baton-charged demonstrators and arrested 50 people.
As others ignored the assembly bans in Delhi and elsewhere, authorities ordered telecom firms to cut calls, text messages and data in parts of the city. India is already the world leader in cutting the internet, activists say, and access was also restricted in parts of the northeast and in Uttar Pradesh, home to a large Muslim minority.
In Delhi, prominent rights activist Harsh Mander was detained, while in Bangalore globally renowned historian Ramachandra Guha was among those dragged onto a police bus.
Around 20,000 people took to the streets in the northeast, where the protests began last week — albeit for different reasons. The day’s biggest demonstration took place in Malegaon district of Maharashtra state with as many as 60,000 people, police said.
– ‘Something has changed’ –
In Mumbai, a crowd of thousands including tattooed students and older Muslim men wearing skullcaps brandished Indian flags, posters of Mahatma Gandhi and handed out copies of the constitution. “Something has changed. This is the first time in a long time that people in Mumbai have come out in such large numbers to register dissent,” said consultant Karishma V.
A crowd of around 40,000 people in eastern West Bengal’s Kolkata city was led by the state’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee, a strong Modi critic. The protests have been fuelled by anger about alleged police brutality including at a university in Delhi on Sunday night.
Security forces in the capital have fired some 450 tear gas shells in the past five days, the Hindustan Times daily reported. One student reportedly lost an eye. The demonstrations in the city have at times turned violent with vehicles set on fire and protestors hurling stones at police in heavily Muslim areas on Wednesday.
“If they show us the lathi (police baton), we will show them roses,” a student in Delhi, Shivaji, told AFP as she handed flowers to police on Thursday.