'They Are Turning India Into Kashmir': Government Crackdown Intensifies as Protest Movement Grows Across Subcontinent

The crackdown by Indian authorities against those protesting the country’s new citizenship laws escalated Thursday as government security forces shut down internet across some cities, detained at least 1,200 people, killed at least three demonstrators, and pulled prominent intellectuals off the street.

Common Dreams reported on the growing protest movement Monday, which at that point was concentrated in universities across India. Thursday’s demonstrations were broader in scope and contended with security forces using Section 144, a law from colonial British rule stating that more than four people meeting in one place constitutes an unlawful assembly, to shut down dissent after the protest movement exploded around the country.

In the city of New Delhi, according to reports, 1,200 protesters were detained. 

“It’s a shameful thing,” Indian leftist author and activist Arundhati Roy said. “This whole business of Section 144, suspending the internet, and arresting people.”

“They are turning India into Kashmir,” Roy added, referring to the Indian government’s brutal repression of the semi-autnomous region to the north.

There have been three deaths due to security forces attacking protesters, according to the BBC:

Two people died in the city of Mangalore after officers opened fire on demonstrators allegedly trying to set fire to a police station. Commissioner Dr. PS Harsha told reporters that a curfew is in place in the city, and that he was waiting for a post mortem before announcing the cause of death for either man.

Another man also died in the city of Lucknow, where violent clashes between demonstrators and police earlier in the day saw buses set alight.

Video from around India showed demonstrators of all ages joining in the movement. 

“I think the government was completely unprepared for the anger that this particular passage of the law was going to present,” said Al Jazeera reporter Sohail Rahman.

Indian authorities shut down certain area’s internet access, continuing a pattern that The New York Times noted Thursday is unique to the south Asian country among democracies.

India tops the world—by far—in the number of digital lockdowns it has imposed, outpacing authoritarian governments such as Syria and Turkey,” the paper reported.

Images and video on social media showed historian Ramachandra Guha and University of Delhi English professor Ira Raja—prominent intellectuals in India—being detained by security forces.

“The police are working under directions from central government,” Guha told reporters in the seconds before he was dragged away by police in the southern city of Bengaluru. “We are protesting non-violently against a discriminatory act, in a disciplined way.”

India’s unrest is due to the government’s recently-passed Citizenship Amendment Bill, which effectively bars Muslims—but not other groups—from becoming naturalized through onerous requirements aimed at the religion. The country’s 200 million-strong Muslim minority fears that the bill is another part of an ongoing effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to marginalize their community. 

As the Times reported, the bill is likely only the beginning:

Amit Shah, the home minister and Mr. Modi’s right-hand man, has vowed to expand a contentious citizenship review process that has already left nearly two million people, from one state in northeastern India, potentially without a country.

Mr. Shah and other party officials have said the policy is not intended to discriminate against Indian Muslims. Rather, they say, it is needed to expel illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, India’s poorer, predominantly Muslim neighbor.

“This government wants to turn us into second-class citizens,” 70-year-old protester Fasiur Rehman told Al Jazeera.

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