Eight-year-old dead as India protests grow over citizenship law
Meanwhile, Indian PM defends citizenship law that excludes Muslims
NEW DELHI: Clashes continued yesterday between Indian police and protesters angered by a new citizenship law that excludes Muslims, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi used a rally for his Hindu nationalist party to defend the legislation, accusing the opposition of pushing the country into a "fear psychosis".
Twenty-three people have been killed nationwide since the law was passed in Parliament earlier this month in protests that represent the first major roadblock for Mr Modi's Hindu nationalist agenda since his party's landslide re-election last spring.
Most of the deaths have occurred in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 20 per cent of the state's 200 million people are Muslim.
Police, who deny any wrongdoing, said that among the 15 people killed in the state was an eight-year-old boy who died in a stampede in the city of Varanasi, the heart of Mr Modi's parliamentary constituency.
The authorities have scrambled to contain the situation, banning public gatherings and blocking Internet access.
India's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued an advisory on Friday night asking broadcasters across the country to refrain from using content that could inflame further violence.
Mr Modi took the stage at a rally in the capital launching his Bharatiya Janata Party's campaign for New Delhi legislative assembly elections in February, quickly turning to the contentious law.
"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," he said.
Mr Modi accused the main opposition Congress party of conspiring "to push not only New Delhi but other parts of the country into a fear psychosis.
"They are trying every tactic to push me out of power."
The new law allows Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally to become citizens if they can show they were persecuted because of their religion in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims.
Critics have slammed the legislation as a violation of India's secular constitution and have called it the latest effort by Mr Modi's government to marginalise the country's 200 million Muslims.
The demonstrations also follow a contentious process in the north-eastern state of Assam meant to weed out foreigners living in the country illegally.
Nearly two million people were excluded from an official list of citizens, about half Hindu and half Muslim, and have been asked to prove their citizenship or else be considered foreign.
A small band of supporters of Mr Modi's party marched in New Delhi yesterday.
Activists from India's north-east, a mainly tribal area where people fear an influx of migrants will dilute their culture and political sway, also held a rally in the capital.
The protests against the law began in Assam, the centre of a decades-old movement against migrants, before spreading to predominantly Muslim universities and then nationwide.
"They understood what it was all about, and they have been very clear from the beginning that theirs was not an issue of Hindu versus Muslim or any religious identity," said historian Mridula Mukherjee.
"They could see through this manoeuvre very quickly, and that's why the mass upsurge started over there." - AP