New Delhi (Reuters) – Three people died of injuries sustained in intensifying protests against a new citizenship law in India on Thursday with thousands taking to the streets nationwide in defiance of temporary bans on public gatherings.
Some protesters clashed with police over the law, passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, that critics say is discriminatory against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution.
Police detained hundreds of people in Delhi and Bengaluru and shut down the internet in some districts to help pre-empt large planned protests.
College students, academics, minority Muslim groups and opposition parties have been prominent in an escalating series of street protests now in their second week.
The government says the Citizenship Amendment Act is required to help non-Muslim minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who came to India before 2015 by granting them Indian nationality.
Two of Thursday’s deaths occurred in Mangaluru and one in Lucknow, according to hospital officials. Two of the dead protesters – one in Mangaluru and one in Lucknow – had been shot, they said.
A curfew was imposed later in parts of Mangaluru.
Internet and text messaging services were suspended by government order for four hours in parts of Delhi, mobile carriers said, widening a communications clampdown in restive areas stretching from disputed Kashmir to the northeast.
In the financial capital Mumbai, more than 5,000 protesters gathered on Thursday evening, forcing the police to impose traffic restrictions.
Haroon Patel, an Indian citizen who lives in London, joined the Mumbai rally and called the new law the first step towards dictatorship, adding: “We have to save the country.”
Supporters of the bill held a counter-demonstration in Gujarat, Modi’s home state in western India.
“The fault lines are defined – either one supports the law or stands against (it)…Indians have to decide and protest,” said Rupak Doshi, who organised a large rally in support of the law in Ahmedabad.