India was braced for more protests on Monday after opposition to a controversial citizenship law granting preference to non-Muslims erupted into violence in Delhi with police storming a prominent university during the night.
Scores of students at the Jamia Millia Islamia university in the Indian capital were injured and dozens arrested on late on Sunday, setting off demonstrations at universities in Mumbai, Hyderabad and other cities.
At Aligarh Muslim University, about 112km from Delhi, authorities imposed an internet blackout after police and students clashed.
“I am deeply hurt by the barbaric way my students were treated. It is absolutely unacceptable the way police entered the university and caned the students,” said Jamia Millia Islamia’s vice-chancellor Najma Akhtar. “I want to let my students know that they are not alone in this difficult fight.”
The chaotic scenes in an upmarket area of Delhi follow days of unrest around the country after parliament last week passed a law seeking to give non-Muslim migrants from India’s Muslim-majority neighbours a fast-track to Indian citizenship.
The law, championed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata party, has provoked international condemnation from critics who say it discriminates against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution.
The US government’s Commission on International Religious Freedom last week criticised the law and urged Washington to consider sanctions against Amit Shah, India’s home minister, and other leaders.
Not all of the protesters have been concerned with the law’s provisions allegedly discriminating against Muslims.
Protests in north-east India, in which at least five people have died, have been motivated instead by concern that the bill will allow Hindu migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh to settle in the region, thereby threatening its distinct cultural identity.
Mr Modi fiercely defended the law on Sunday, telling a rally that it was “1,000 per cent correct”, and blaming the demonstrations on opposition parties.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, a member of the opposing Congress party and scion of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi family, condemned the security forces and government.
“At a time when the government should go ahead and listen to the people, the BJP government is registering its presence . . . through oppression of students,” she wrote on Twitter. It is “afraid of the people’s voice”.
One tearful student at Jamia Millia Islamia University told TV channel NDTV that “students were running for their lives”. She continued: “I came to Delhi thinking it is the safest place in the country for students, and this happened.”
Additional reporting by Andrea Rodrigues