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Protests Against Citizenship Law Continue In India

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Almost two dozen people have died, and over 1,500 people have been arrested in India in violent protests there over the past month. The demonstrators are angry about a new religious-based citizenship law, which they say discriminates against Muslims. We have NPR's Mumbai producer Sushmita Pathak on the line with us right now to tell us more. Hi.

SUSHMITA PATHAK, BYLINE: Hi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what is the latest with these protests? They've been going on for about 10 days now, right?

PATHAK: Yeah. They've been going on ever since India's parliament passed the law. They started in the northeastern state of Assam. It's a very diverse place. And people are opposed to any new migrants. They're afraid that new migrants will dilute their culture or take away their jobs. But protests quickly spread outside Assam. And in the rest of the country, people are saying the law is divisive, that it goes against the secular values enshrined in India's constitution. There have been protests in all major Indian cities. Some of them have turned violent. Twenty-three people have died during protests in the last two weeks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The new law - right? - makes it harder for undocumented Muslims from neighboring nations, including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, to seek citizenship in India. Have you been hearing reports of fatalities in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh? And have authorities said anything about those reports?

PATHAK: Yeah. So the majority of these deaths have occurred in Uttar Pradesh. There were reports of vehicles being burned. Police station was set on fire. Some protesters died of bullet injuries. But police is denying responsibility. They say they only fire tear gas. And now we're getting some reports of police using excessive force there - raiding Muslim homes. But it's hard to verify some of those claims.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what about the government? What is Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying?

PATHAK: Modi was speaking at a huge rally in New Delhi today. And he blame his rivals, especially the main opposition Congress Party. He said they were spreading rumors about the law and misleading protesters. So he urged everyone to read the law carefully. He said the law would not apply to any Indian citizen and that Indian Muslims don't need to worry at all. He says the law is actually a humanitarian gesture. He says it helps persecuted minorities from three Muslim-majority countries nearby - Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sushmita, just briefly, Narendra Modi has also cut off the Internet in some of these places. How is that going down?

PATHAK: Yeah. I mean, these protests have been going on despite Internet shutdowns and prohibitory orders in many places. In many areas in Uttar Pradesh, the northern Indian state where most deaths have taken place, Internet is shut down in many areas there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Sushmita Pathak, thank you so much.

PATHAK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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