New Delhi: India’s federal government has warned television stations not to broadcast images of protests against a new religion-based citizenship law, as it intensifies attempts to quell growing anger over what demonstrators say is an attack on the country’s secular constitution.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants broadcasters to “abstain” from showing content that’s “against the maintenance of law and order or which promotes anti-national attitudes,” according to a Ministry of Information and Broadcasting letter tweeted by the country’s biggest media group, Times of India. The nationwide unrest poses the biggest challenge to Modi in his six-year reign.
— Times of India (@timesofindia) December 20, 2019
B. Narayanan, spokesman for the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting didn’t answer calls seeking comment. The prime minister is expected to meet his council of ministers on Saturday to discuss the security situation in the country following the protests, Reuters reported citing unnamed officials. Calls to Modi’s office went unanswered.
The new law bars Muslims from neighboring nations from seeking citizenship in India. It’s seen as a precursor to a nationwide citizens register thtat aims to weed out illegal migrants and which is expected to be used against Muslim citizens by the government led by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
Six people have been killed in clashes with police and more than 1,200 — including political leaders, have been detained — after authorities tried to quash the protests that have spread to almost all major Indian cities. In the capital New Delhi, more than 40 people were held after protests near Jama Masjid, a Mughal-era mosque, turned violent, the Times of India reported.
Suroor Mander, a senior lawyer from New Delhi, stood at the Daryaganj police station to help those who had been detained.
“This is the first time that I’ve seen lawyers rally in such numbers to help fellow citizens,” Mander said. “About 500 lawyers have offered help across India. About 50 turned up in uniforms last night in old Delhi to help the people and 10 of them stood there all night to ensure justice — it was very heartening.”
Indian television and social media feeds have been deluged by news of spreading demonstrations led mostly by students of all faiths. They have stepped out in solidarity with their counterparts in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh where police entered campuses and beat up protesters.
The government has shown no signs of backing down on the contentious law that was passed on Dec. 11.
The internet has been shutdown in Uttar Pradesh — a state that’s the size of Brazil — and in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, warned the government may seize the property of anyone found to have indulged in violence during the protests.
India recorded the world’s highest number of internet shutdowns, according to the Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Center. The longest shutdown has been recorded in Kashmir, the country’s only Muslim-majority territory, where the block has been in place since August when the government scrapped the state’s decades-old autonomy.
Protests against the citizenship law come amid the slowest economic growth in more than six years, rising unemployment and a growing unease fueled by a series of surprise decisions.
Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah scrapped seven-decades of autonomy in Kashmir and announced plans for a nationwide citizens registry or NRC that would require people to prove their citizenship. This new law has raised fears about damage to India’s traditional secular ethos enshrined in its Constitution that treats all religions equally. – Bloomberg