India's PM addresses rally as protest deaths climb
NEW DELHI — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed an election rally for his Hindu nationalist party on Sunday after another day of violent clashes between police and protesters demonstrating against a new citizenship law that excludes Muslims.
Twenty-three people have been killed nationwide in the protests since the law was passed in Parliament earlier this month.
Most of the deaths have occurred in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 20% of the state’s 200 million people are Muslim. Police deny any wrongdoing. Among the 15 people killed in the state was an 8-year-old boy who died in a stampede, police said.
Authorities have scrambled to contain the situation, banning public gatherings and blocking internet access.
Modi took the stage at a rally launching his Bharatiya Janata Party's campaign for New Delhi legislative assembly elections in February. He urged a sea of supporters to chant, “Unity in diversity is India’s specialty.”
He also asked people in the crowd to “stand up and show respect for elected members of Parliament, the decision to pass the CAB,” or Citizenship Amendment Bill.
The backlash against the new law marks the strongest show of dissent against Modi's government since he was first elected in 2014.
The 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 Modi's government to marginalize the country's 200 million Muslims. Modi has defended the law as a humanitarian gesture.
A small band of supporters of Modi's party marched in New Delhi on Sunday. Elsewhere in the capital, activists from India's northeast, a heavily tribal area where people fear an influx of migrants will dilute their culture and political sway, took place.