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India rocked by protests over citizenship law that favors non-Muslims

An Indian citizenship law that would curtail the rights of Muslims has led to widespread protests across the country, with police firing tear gas into a predominantly Muslim university in New Delhi on Monday, according to the New York Times.

Last week, India’s parliament passed the controversial measure granting special treatment to Hindu and other non-Muslim migrants in the nation, sparking fierce criticism from those who have called it contradictory to the country’s history of secular democracy.

The law is backed by President Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party but has prompted widespread unrest among the nation’s 200 million Muslims.

Videos circulated on social media show police responding violently to peaceful demonstrations at the largely Muslim Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, with officers beating students with wooden sticks and, in one case, knocking a man down and attempting to continue hitting him even after a group of women formed a protective circle around him, according to the Times.

“The police barged into the girls’ hostel, they barged into the boys’ hostel,’’ one young woman told the Times. “Students were running around to save their lives. Is this democracy? Where are we living?’’

The police response hospitalized dozens of students, according to local media, with officers tear-gassing some students who attempted to shelter in a library.

The Citizenship Amendment Act fast-tracks the citizenship processes for citizens of neighboring countries if they are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain or Parsee. The Modi government has claimed it was not intended to target Muslims and was aimed at aiding religious minorities experiencing persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

However, it comes amid a series of steps by the Modi administration that have alarmed the Muslim minority, including replacing historic Muslim place names with Hindu ones, removing Muslim rulers from state-issued textbooks, and the revocation of statehood for Jammu and Kashmir, according to the Times.

Over the summer, the state of Assam in the north of the country imposed a citizenship test requiring residents prove they or their ancestors have lived in India since 1971, leaving about two million Hindus and Muslims in danger of being declared stateless, according to the Times.

The United States Commission on International Religious dom has called the national citizenship law a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction” and advised the U.S. to consider sanctions if it becomes law.

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