Demonstrations continue against controversial law seen anti-Muslim even as leader of volatile northern state and hardline Hindu monk, Yogi Adityanath, defends mass arrests, sealing of properties, and heavy fines, to quell protests.
The chief minister of India's volatile Uttar Pradesh state has rebuffed accusations from rights groups of police abuses during protests against a new citizenship law, crediting his tough stand with restoring calm to the streets.
Meanwhile, people in different parts of India continued holding marches and rallies on Saturday, claiming the law called Citizenship Amendment Act [or CAA] to be "a stepping stone for Holocaust."
The state's chief minister, Yogi Adityanath [ born in 1972 and named Ajay Singh Bisht], a hardline Hindu monk who belongs to Modi's Hindu-nationalist party, said his tough policies against the controversial law seen anti-Muslim by many had ended the trouble.
"Every rioter is shocked. Every troublemaker is astonished. Looking at the strictness of the Yogi government, everyone is silent," one of Adityanath's verified official accounts on Twitter said late on Friday.
"Do whatever you want to, but the damages will be paid by those who cause damages," it added.
Last week, his government said it was demanding millions of rupees from more than 200 people, threatening to confiscate their property to pay for damage during the protests.
Rights groups have decried what they say have been mass detentions and excessive force in the state, where police officers have arrested more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims.
His supporters have called for digging up Muslim women from their graves and raping them. In 2015, he said if given the chance, he would install idols of Hindu gods in every mosque. Also said, “If [Muslims] take one Hindu girl, we’ll take 100 Muslim girls. https://t.co/SqmQwZnztk— meena kandasamy || மீனா கந்தசாமி (@meenakandasamy) December 27, 2019
The northern state has seen the most violent turmoil over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's citizenship law, which activists say is discriminatory towards the Muslim community, which makes up some 14 percent of India's population.
Out of at least 27 people who have been killed since the protests began this month, 19 were in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India's most populous state.
The clashes in the state appear to have eased over the past week, however, although small-scale demonstrations are still taking place.
The citizenship legislation makes it easier for members of religious minorities from India's Muslim-majority neighbours –– Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan –– who settled in India before 2015 to get citizenship but does not offer the same concession to Muslims.
Critics say the law –– and plans for a national citizenship register –– discriminate against Muslims and are an attack on the secular constitution by Modi's government.
Coupled with a mooted citizens register, it has stoked fears –– including in Washington and the UN rights office –– about the marginalisation of Muslims who make up 14 percent of India's 1.3 billion people.
The government has said no citizen will be affected and there are no imminent plans for a register.
But a video circulating on social media is likely to compound the concerns of those worried about the plight of Muslims.
It shows a senior UP police officer telling a demonstrator to "go to Pakistan if you don't want to live here."
The official, Akhilesh Narayan Singh, told Reuters news agency that some protesters had been shouting pro-Pakistan slogans.
"It is in this situation I told them to go to Pakistan," he said on Saturday.
Meanwhile, a massive crowd of protesters emerged in India's southern Chennai city carrying a huge cloth representing the Indian flag along with placards, posters as they marched on the roads to criticise Modi-led government for making a religion-based law.
In eastern Bhubaneswar city, India's opposition Congress party took out a rally as they rejected the law.
"They can punish us, throw us in jail, siphon our property but they will not be able to stop us from continuing our protest," said Akhilesh Tomar, a student activist who has teamed up with the Congress to coordinate protests in four Muslim-dominated districts of UP.
"We oppose CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act). It is equivalent to the Nuremberg Act (Laws), 1935 enacted by (Adolf) Hitler. It (CAA) is a stepping stone for Holocaust," said a protester, Balan while protesting the law in India's southern Shivamogga city.
Several videos have emerged that raise serious qs about police behaviour. This CCTV footage is from a shop in a Muslim locality in Meerut that shows police trying to break the camera. #India #UttarPradesh pic.twitter.com/ld7M8GrvkG— Yogita Limaye (@yogital) December 27, 2019
Protests were also planned in the northeastern state of Assam, where migration has long been an emotive political issue, with protesters expecting increasing turnout in smaller towns.
Meanwhile, Hindu activists associated with Modi's party were conducting workshops in slums in an effort to ease public discontent.
"We have to explain the facts to the common people who are being misled against the law by the opposition," said Ram Naresh Tanwar, a member of a group called the Hindu Jagran Samiti, or Hindu awareness committee, in New Delhi.