Modi Defends India Citizenship Law as Protests Continue

Protests against a controversial citizenship bill in India continued Sunday despite a government ban against demonstrations.

At least 23 people have been killed in nearly two weeks of demonstrations and violence after India’s parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act which critics have deemed anti-Muslim.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a rally for his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in which he defended the law and called on citizens to respect the decision of the government.

The new law allows for Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally to become citizens, if they can prove they were persecuted because of their religion in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The new law, however, does not apply to Muslims.

People who are trying to spread lies and fear, look at my work. If you see any trace of divisiveness in my work, show it to the world,'' Modi told the rally. He said the opposition Congress party was trying topush not only New Delhi but other parts of the country into a fear psychosis.”

Modi was chief minister of the state of Gujarat in 2002 when an estimated 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed in riots.

Most of the deaths in recent weeks of demonstrations have occurred in the Northeastern state of Uttar Pradesh, where roughly 20% of the population is Muslim.

The protests that began on predominantly Muslim university campuses like Jamia Millia have widened as ordinary citizens and academics join with students. Bollywood stars were among those who raised their voices against the new law in Mumbai on Thursday at a huge rally in India’s financial capital.

While the immediate spark for the public fury is the citizenship law, anger is also growing for what is being decried as an attempt by Prime Minister Modi’s government to control dissent by preventing people from staging demonstrations.

Since the protests escalated, authorities have imposed a restrictive rule known as Section 144 in several parts of the country. It prohibits more than four people from gathering at one place, closed metro stations in the capital to prevent people from mobilizing, and shut down the internet and text messaging services in many places.