New Delhi: India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for a cabinet meeting on Saturday as the death toll in violent clashes between the police and anti-CAA protesters reached 20.
“The PM has called a meeting of the full union council of ministers to assess the prevailing situation due to violent protests in many parts of the country against the Citizenship Amendment Act,” a senior government official, requesting anonymity, told Reuters News Agency.
The controversial citizenship law, critics say, discriminates against Muslims and undermines the country’s secular constitution.
An eight-year-old boy and four protesters died after suffering bullet wounds when demonstrations turned violent on Friday in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the state’s police spokesman Shirish Chandra told AFP news agency.
The boy died in a stampede during a large rally of 2,500 people in the holy city of Varanasi, district police chief Prabhakar Chaudhary said.
“When the police tried to quell the protests, these persons ran for cover and a stampede-like situation emerged, in which this boy died,” Chaudhary said.
The controversial act is an amendment to a 1955 piece of legislation granting citizenship to “persecuted” minorities – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – from neighboring countries – but excludes Muslims.
The backlash against the law pushed through Parliament by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government marks the strongest show of dissent since he was first elected in 2014.
Rights activists in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, said local policemen were conducting raids on their houses and offices to prevent them from planning fresh demonstrations.
According to the Press Trust of India (PTI), the death toll from Friday’s protests in Uttar Pradesh’s 13 districts has risen to 11.
CAA against Muslims
In the northeast state of Assam, locals are angry with the law as it makes it easier for non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who settled in India prior to 2015, to obtain Indian citizenship.
“This piece of legislation strikes at the heart of the Constitution, seeking to make India another country altogether,” prominent historian Ramachandra Guha wrote in an Indian newspaper, The Telegraph.
“It is thus that so many people from so many different walks of life have raised their voices against it.”
Guha was released from police custody after being arrested for protesting against the law in the southern city of Bengaluru.