NEW DELHI: At least three people died, several injured and hundreds detained after violent protests erupted across the country on Thursday over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, which seeks to grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Buddhists and Christians fleeing religious persecution from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh and came to India on or before December 31, 2014. Despite restrictions and heavy police deployment, the anti-CAA protesters made concerted efforts to bring national and international attention to their fight against the controversial law.
Protesters from a wide social and political spectrum joined forces as protest marches and meets were organised at many places across the country on Thursday. At least two people died of injuries suffered in violent protests against CAA in Karnataka's Mangaluru. The city police later confirmed that the two had sustained injuries after teargas shells were fired to disperse the mob and they later died during treatment at the hospital.
The city police carried out a baton charge to disperse around 100 anti-CAA protesters after they turned violent and set a few motor bikes on fire and pelted stones on the security forces in Mangaluru. Hundreds of college students and cadres of the Left organisations and minority institutions staged protests and staged sit-in demonstrations in the Karnataka port city against the CAA and sought its repeal at the earliest.
Almost all the major cities - Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Lucknow, Patna, Thiruvananthapuram, Mumbai and Hyderabad - saw protesters taking to the streets despite substantial police presence and imposition of prohibitory orders at several places. In Delhi, protesters gathered in large numbers at various places like the Red Fort, Mandi House and Jantar Mantar. Police forces deployed in large numbers kept the protests under control. A number of metro rail stations were shut as a precautionary measure.
In order to contain rumours and maintain law and order, Delhi Police directed the social media platforms to block as many as 60 accounts for allegedly sharing fake news. It was necessitated in the backdrop of violent protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act fanned by fake messages on social media. According to the police, these accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram had posted unverified news that was later shared in close media groups like WhatsApp.
Some of the worst protest-related violence took place in Uttar Pradesh, where media persons were attacked and OB vans were razed in state capital Lucknow. Similar acts of violence and arson were reported from places such as Sambhal in the state, which has a BJP government at the helm.
State's Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath blamed the opposition for the violence and warned of strict action against those involved in the violence. Assessing the law and order situation during upcoming demonstrations against Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens, the Uttar Pradesh administration suspended internet and messaging system in Lucknow for next 45 hours from 3 pm on Thursday.
"SMS and Whatsapp and social media systems like Facebook, Youtube may be used extensively for transmission of information like pictures, videos and text that have potential to inflame passions and thus exacerbate the law and order situation," said Awanish Kumar Awasthi, Additional Chief Secretary, Home, in an order. Awasthi also said that to prevent possible misuse of social media and internet to disturb the peace and tranquillity to maintain normalcy in the city, he has ordered suspension of SMS and internet services.
"I hereby promulgate, under provision of Section 5 part II of Indian Telegraph Act 1985 and Temporary suspension of Telecom Services Rules 2017, to suspend the telecom services (SMS and internet services) for next 45 hours from 3 pm in the afternoon on Thursday," he said in the order.
In yet another BJP-ruled state, Karnataka, protests were by and large peaceful and orderly. Section 144 was put in place in Bengaluru and other parts of the state from Thursday morning to 21 December. Prominent among those detained by the police in Bengaluru include eminent historian Ramachandra Guha.
In West Bengal, where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee heads the Trinamool government, the protests were a big show of strength for the ruling party which has been fiercely opposing the CAA. Mamata fuelled the controversy by demanding an impartial UN-like panel to ascertain as to who favoured the controversial CAA law and the NRC. The TMC chief's statements, however, evoked a strong criticism from the BJP.
Maharashtra also witnessed protests in Mumbai and several other places in the state.
In Mumbai, the biggest procession was held at the historic August Kranti Maidan which saw a large number of celebs and political leaders like Raj Babbar, Naseem Khan, Milind Deora, Eknath Gaikwad, film personalities - Saeed Mirza, Suhasini Mulay, Farhan Akhtar, and Sushant Singh, academicians, social workers, representatives of NGOs, students, and many more sitting in protest against the CAA-NRC. Nagpur, which is the headquarters of the RSS, also witnessed a big protest march by citizens' groups.
Other places that saw anti-CAA protests include Rajasthan, Chennai and Thiruvanantapuram.
In Rajasthan, protests were held in several districts including the capital city Jaipur where thousands belonging to the Left parties, lawyers fraternity, CIPU, People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), civil society, teachers, professors and many other organisations came together to take out a massive protest march against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
However, the protests drew a mixed response in Bihar and were largely absent from Madhya Pradesh where Sec 144 was imposed in as many as 44 districts.