Citizenship Amendment Act protests: How State controlled a pan-India movement with internet bans, police crackdown that left 25 dead

  • The police action against the protesters came in for harsh comments from the Opposition and citizens as at least 25 people died

  • Reports of police crackdown against protesters have emerged, with 18 death registered in Uttar Pradesh alone

  • India has also overtaken all countries in blocking internet for its citizen, according to a global report

The recent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill and the reported plans to make a nationwide National Register of Citizens turned into one of the largest pan-India agitations against a Central government policy since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took over. It also elicited what the Opposition called unprecedented censure and crackdown on protesters.

Internet services were suspended across major cities in Uttar Pradesh and a few sensitive ones in West Bengal and Karnataka as central and state governments doubled down on efforts to check the spread of agitations against the new religion-based citizenship law. The National Capital too was affected as private telecom companies revealed that they had received directives to suspend data services in Central and North East Delhi after Thursday's protests.

The police action against the protesters also came in for harsh comments from the Opposition and citizens as at least 25 people died (18 in Uttar Pradesh alone) while numerous others complained of harassment and injury. The deaths were reported from Uttar Pradesh (18), Assam (5), Karnataka (2). All the states are ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Initial protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act were fierce in the North East alone, where locals fear a threat to their social and cultural identity by assimilation of migrants which will be allowed under the Citizenship Amendment Act.

But the demonstrations spread and grew in intensity, especially after the Delhi Police were accused of using excessive force against students at Jamia Millia Islamia, a public varsity, last weekend.

 Citizenship Amendment Act protests: How State controlled a pan-India movement with internet bans, police crackdown that left 25 dead

Police personnel pelt stones during a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, at Babu Purwa in Kanpur. PTI

Following is a roundup of incidents of violence and internet shutdowns across the country since the promulgation of the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Delhi

Police action blinds one student, several others injured

Delhi — and especially Jamia — was arguably the epicenter of the pan-India movement that has so far claimed 25 lives and put the Centre in a fix.

Students of the Jamia Milia Islamia started peaceful protests on 12 Decembers when CAA was notified and turned into a law.

However, on 15 December, police forcibly entered the Jamia campus looking for 'outsiders' who had indulged in violence and arson during the protest outside the campus against the amended citizenship law. Private and public property was burnt and destroyed during these protests. Police used batons and tear gas on the students, and more than 200 students were injured and around 100 were detained overnight in the police station.

Several personal accounts revealed that the police forcibly entered the campus and thrashed students, not only the ones protesting, but also those inside the library on the precincts. Students told PTI that some ‘unruly policemen’ broke open the main library gate and the glass doors of the library building, and fired teargas shells on students. One student, Mohammad Minhajuddin, has lost his eye in the assault, while another suffered fractures.

Minhajuddin, an LLM student, says students pleaded with the police saying they were not involved in the protest against the amended Citizenship Act but they did not pay heed.

"They deliberately entered the library. The protest was happening outside Gate Number 7 which is on the other side of the road. I had not participated in the protest but I was hit brutally," he claimed. He also sustained a fracture on one of his fingers.

Private telecom providers asked to suspend data services in Central, northeast Delhi

Internet and text messaging services were suspended by government order in parts of India’s capital Delhi on Thursday, mobile carriers said. The outage affecting services provided by Vodafone Idea, Jio and Bharti Airtel resumed after a four-hour outage. The unprecedented shutdown came as hundreds of people tried to hold more rallies in protest at a new citizenship law seen as discriminating against Muslims.

Uttar Pradesh 

Reports of police excesses emerge from Kanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Aligarh; 18 dead

Reports of a police crackdown against protesters have emerged, with 18 death registered in the state alone. Locals claim that the police action was disproportionate but the Uttar Pradesh Police says it did not fire even a single bullet on protesters, and the deaths may have been a result of firing by protesters.

But Firstpost found clear signs of police excesses, at least in Muzaffarnagar. A ground report revealed that many of the people suffered serious injuries — the most common injury being ruptured knee caps. The police also rounded up people who claim they were standing outside their shops to guard them from vandals on rampage during the protests. People also alleged that the police detained people for hours and beat them up in custody, but refused to produce them before a magistrate.

Furthermore, the biggest challenge to police’s ‘no-firing’ claim came from Kanpur. Several news reports claimed that contrary to the police’ claim, a video has emerged a policeman opening fire. According to Hindustan Times, in the one-minute-37-second video, the policeman in riot gear is seen with a pistol and can be seen readying it and then walking to a corner and opening fire at protesters. It also shows someone shouting to stop shooting the incident and let the policemen fire.

The Indian Express has published the names of at least 14 people who died due to bullet injuries in Uttar Pradesh. An eight-year-old child was killed in a stampede in Varanasi after police baton charged on protesters to disperse them.

Similarly, reports of police excesses emerged from Aligarh as well, where the state-run minority varsity Aligarh Muslim University is located. Clashes in AMU had erupted following police action against demonstrators in the vicinity of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi on 15 December.

Accounts of students reported in the media, and posted on social media sites also narrate tales of cops ‘mercilessly beating students’

"I do not wish to say anything beyond the fact that I have lost my hand," Mohammad Tariq, a PhD student, whose is being treated at the trauma centre told PTI.

The students were allegedly thrashed by policemen at the Malkhan Singh Hospital. They were refused water and policemen said they were “anti-nationals” who should be sent to Pakistan.

Internet shut down in UP

Internet access over mobile phones was suspended in major towns in Uttar Pradesh, including Lucknow, Kanpur, Prayagraj, Agra, Aligarh, Ghaziabad, Varanasi, Mathura, Meerut, Moradabad, Muzaffarnagar, Bareli, Firozabad, Pilibhit, Rampur, Saharanpur, Shamli, Sambhal, Amroha, Mau, Azamgarh and Sultanpur following explicit state government orders, telecom industry officials said.

Broadband internet services were also suspended in some cities, including Lucknow and Ghaziabad.

The Uttar Pradesh government's Additional Chief Secretary Awanish Kumar Awasthi in an order issued on 19 December stated that "messaging systems like SMS and WhatsApp and social media systems like Facebook and YouTube may be used extensively for the transmission of information like pictures, videos and texts that have the potential to inflame passions and thus exacerbate the law and order situation."

"Therefore, in order to prevent the possible misuse" of messaging platforms and internet "to disturb the peace and tranquillity of the city and create further law and order situation and in order that normalcy may maintain" temporary suspension of SMS messages and mobile internet/data services of all telecom service providers is ordered for next 45 hours beginning 1500 hours on 19 December, he said.

The clampdown, however, lasted much longer than 45 hours. Internet and broadband resumed in Prayagraj on Monday evening while services were restored in Lucknow only partially on Tuesday.

Assam

Assam witnessed several violent protests, with three railway stations, dozens of vehicles and many other public properties being set ablaze or totally damaged. In the resultant police crackdown, across the state, five people have been killed during the protests and several others injured.

A report in The Wire claimed that two deaths were reported on 12 December, much before the protests reached Delhi. Two youths died on the spot when army, paramilitary and local police personnel allegedly fired at unarmed protesters around Lalung Chowk, at the outskirts of the state capital, Guwahati.

The third casualty was reported on 19 December, when NIA officer GP Singh was on the vigil in the city. The report states that as Singh went around the city, protesters pelted stones at the official’s convoy as his stint in Assam in the 1990s was mired with controversies about alleged fake encounters. When Singh’s convoy reached Hatigaon, protesters greeted him with burning tyres, which is when an eyewitness said that the police blacked out the street lights and opened fire on protesters. A stray bullet hit a young musician in the face and he died on the spot.

One more person died in Lalung Chowk the same day as a stray bullet fired by armed personnel to disperse the crowd of protesters, hit a youth in the abdomen. Another person, Deepanjal Das (19), from Chaygaon, succumbed to bullet wounds at Lachit Nagar. Ishwar Nayak (25) was out with his roommate to just get bread and groceries but was caught between police chasing protesters, and took a bullet in his waist and later succumbed to his injuries.

Internet shutdown lasted 10 days in Assam

Mobile and broadband internet services were suspended on the evening of 11 December after incidents of violence during protests against the amended Citizenship Act. They were resumed on Friday morning, the tenth day after it was banned during protests against the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

Karnataka

Two protesters were killed in police firing in Mangaluru after anti-CAA protesters started pelting stones on the police on Thursday. Police in the coastal city of Mangaluru lathi-charged and later opened fire at protesters they claimed were trying to set fire to a police station and had targeted police personnel in Bunder area.

Abdul Jaleel (49) and Nouseen Yane (23), both daily-wage labourers were the two men who succumbed to bullet injuries after police opened fire to disperse protesters. At least nine others had suffered injuries.

Although the police claim they fired in self-defence, multiple videos have emerged that question the police's version. One video shows police shooting at a crowd that is standing quite far. In another video, policemen are heard telling each other, 'not one person has died', The News Minute reported.

To counter the criticism it faced, the Mangaluru Police has released some more videos that show protesters damaging public property and pelting stones. One of the videos shows protesters, with their faces covered with handkerchiefs, throwing stones, with fire in the backdrop. Another clip shows a man trying to break a CCTV camera with a bamboo pole. The police say these videos were taken by mediapersons and captured in the CCTV cameras.

Internet shutdown in Mangaluru, Dakshin Kannada

Mobile internet services in Mangaluru and Dakshina Kannada districts were suspended on Thursday night for 48 hours after two people were killed in firing by police during violent protests in Mangaluru.

According to a government notification, the decision to suspend internet was taken in order to prevent misuse of social media platforms to disturb peace and tranquillity, and for maintaining law-and-order, The Hindustan Times reported

Internet shutdown in five districts of West Bengal after violent protests

West Bengal was hit by massive violent protests but no casualties have been reported from the state. During the course of over a week long protests, protesters vandalized the Rejinagar station and set the station master's room on fire in Murshidabad. Railway Protection Force (RPF) personnel were attacked in Sagardighi and Rejinagar.

Protesters vandalised the Bhaluka railway station in Malda, while some others laid siege to the highway connecting Mathabhanga in Coochbehar, among other incidents. The West Bengal government announced a temporary suspension of Internet services in affected districts to disturbance. Uttar Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Howrah, and parts of North 24 Parganas (Basirhat and Barasat subdivisions). The services were resumed after four days on 19 December.

Internet shutdown for six hours in Bhopal

Mobile internet remained suspended in state capital Bhopal for six hours on Friday. In Bhopal city, a huge protest march was held near Tarjume Wali Masjid. It was led by Mufti Abdul Razzque.

Internet shutdown in Jaipur

Internet was suspended in Rajasthan's capital Jaipur on Sunday after both pro and anti-CAA protests were held in the city. The internet services were suspended from 6 am till 8 pm on Sunday.

Rajasthan police commissioner Anand Srivastava on Saturday issued a notification about the rally by Muslim groups and the state government, and said an internet ban will be imposed in the Jaipur commissionerate region on Sunday.

The matter of alleged police excesses and the widespread protests even reached the Supreme Court, but a bench led by the Chief Justice of India did not 'interfere' with the police's duty to uphold law and order. The court also refused to stay the contentious citizenship law. However, it agreed to admit a bench of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the law that many see as communal, but posted the matter for hearing after the winter break.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Dec 24, 2019 18:19:47 IST