Indian police officer tells citizenship law protesters to 'go to Pakistan' as death toll rises

Senior official claims he was reacting to pro-Pakistan chants by demonstrators

Conrad Duncan
Sunday 29 December 2019 00:52
Indian police officer tells protesters to 'go back to Pakistan'

A senior police officer in an Indian state which has seen 19 deaths in protests over a controversial citizenship law has been filmed telling demonstrators to “go to Pakistan”.

Critics have claimed a new law which makes it easier for members of persecuted religious minorities, but not Muslims, to become eligible for citizenship is discriminatory and violates India's secular constitution.

Uttar Pradesh (UP), the country’s most populous state with nearly 20 per cent of its population Muslim, has seen the majority of at least 25 deaths so far during the protests.

Akhilesh Narayan Singh, a senior UP police officer, was filmed telling protesters to “go to Pakistan if you don't want to live here” in a video which has been widely-circulated on social media.

The video is likely to compound concerns that Muslims are being marginalised under Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.

Mr Singh later told Reuters his comments were a response to some protesters who had been shouting pro-Pakistan slogans.

“It is in this situation I told them to go to Pakistan,” he said on Saturday.

The controversy over the video came as the UP chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, rebuffed accusations from rights groups of police abuses during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Mr Adityanath, a hardline Hindu priest who belongs to Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, has claimed his tough policies have restored calm to the state.

“Every rioter is shocked. Every troublemaker is astonished. Looking at the strictness of the Yogi government, everyone is silent,” he wrote on one of his official Twitter accounts.

“Do whatever you want to, but the damages will be paid by those who cause damages.”

Last week, the UP government said it was demanding millions of rupees from more than 200 people and threatened to confiscate demonstrators' property to pay for damages during protests.

Rights groups have accused the state government of “employing unlawful and lethal tactics” against protesters and decried what they say have been mass detentions in UP, where officers have arrested more than 1,000 people.

The CAA allows Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities to become citizens in India if they can show they were persecuted because of their religion in neighbouring Muslim-majority countries - Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

However, the law does not offer concessions to Muslims.

Officials from the opposition Congress party were set to lead protests on Saturday under the slogan "Save Constitution-Save India".

“They can punish us, throw us in jail, siphon our property but they will not be able to stop us from continuing our protest,” said Akhilesh Tomar, a student activist who is working with the Congress to coordinate protests in four Muslim-dominated districts of UP.

Protests were also planned in the northeastern state of Assam, where migration has long been an emotive political issue.

Meanwhile, Hindu activists associated with Mr Modi's party were conducting workshops in slums in an effort to ease public discontent.

“We have to explain the facts to the common people who are being misled against the law by the opposition,” said Ram Naresh Tanwar, a member of a group called the Hindu Jagran Samiti, or Hindu awareness committee, in New Delhi.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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