Dozens injured as activists clash with Delhi police in citizenship law protests

A man walks on a street as a bus is on fire following demonstration against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in New Delhi on Sunday. (AFP)
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Updated 16 December 2019

Dozens injured as activists clash with Delhi police in citizenship law protests

  • Government says new law will save religious minorities such as Hindus and Christians from persecution in neighboring
  • Critics say the law, which does not make the same provision for Muslims, weakens India’s secular foundations

NEW DELHI: More than 100 activists protesting against a new Indian citizenship law were injured in New Delhi on Sunday as they clashed with police who used tear gas and baton charges to disperse demonstrators at a major university.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government says the new law will save religious minorities such as Hindus and Christians from persecution in neighboring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan by offering them a path to Indian citizenship. But critics say the law, which does not make the same provision for Muslims, weakens India’s secular foundations.
Sunday was the fifth straight day of protests across the country against the law enacted earlier this month, and the third day running in the capital.

Police tried to contain thousands of protesters, including locals and students, who had gathered near the Jamia Millia Islamia University in southeast Delhi. Clashes erupted and authorities said protesters torched buses, cars and motorbikes.
Officials at two local hospitals said more than 100 people with injuries had been brought in following the clashes.
“Many of them have fracture injuries. We are running out of plaster of paris for casts,” said Inamul Hassan, an official at the Alshifa Hospital located near the university, adding more than 80 people with injuries had been brought to the hospital.
A spokesman for Holy Family Hospital told Reuters’ partner agency ANI that it had treated 26 students suffering from minor injuries.
Police resorted to baton charges and firing tear gas on the protesters to disperse them, according to a Reuters witness. Officers stormed the campus grounds to confront protesters they said fled into the university and threw stones at police.
“About 4000 people were protesting and police did what they did to disperse them when the crowd burnt buses,” said Chinmoy Biswal, a senior police officer in the area. “If it had been a peaceful mob it would have been dispersed peacefully.”
He added that police entered the campus to maintain order and that six officers had been wounded in the clashes.
However some students and officials at Jamia Millia, a storied institution almost 100 years old, decried the police action.
“Police have entered the campus by force, no permission was given. Our staff and students are being beaten up and forced to leave the campus,” Waseem Ahmed Khan, a senior faculty member of the university, told ANI.
Student Tehreem Mirza said students took shelter in the library after police on the campus fired tear gas.
The protests have raged particularly in some eastern states such as Assam, Tripura and West Bengal, where resentment toward Bangladeshi immigrants has persisted for decades.
Authorities have shut down Internet access in several parts of the affected states in an attempt to maintain law and order.
Modi, speaking at a rally in the eastern state of Jharkhand on Sunday, blamed the opposition Congress party and its allies for inciting violence against the citizenship law.
The Congress party in turn slammed Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party on Twitter saying, the government “has failed at its duty to maintain peace in the nation.”
Local authorities ordered all schools in southeast Delhi to remain closed on Monday. Jamia Millia university had already said, on Saturday, that it was closing early for the winter break. The Aligarh Muslim University in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh also announced that it was shutting early for the break after student protesters clashed with police on Sunday.
Hundreds of activists gathered outside the New Delhi police headquarters on Sunday night to protest against alleged police brutality and the detention of students.
A lawyer, who is trying to negotiate the release of detained students, said at least 28 were being held at one police station in South Delhi. A police spokesman did not respond to a call, or message asking about the number of people detained.
Meanwhile, protests against the law continued in parts of eastern India. A highway connecting West Bengal and Assam was blocked in several places on Sunday when protesters burnt tires, demanding the law be scrapped. Violence was also reported in Patna, the capital of the eastern state of Bihar.


A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

Updated 22 January 2020

A tale of two cities: Project aims to retell lost stories from Lahore, Delhi

  • Will give migrants a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes torn apart by partition of 1947

NEW DELHI: Sparsh Ahuja and Ameena Malak grew up listening to their grandparents narrate stories of the partition from 1947.
Ahuja’s grandfather, Ishar Das Arora, was 7 years old when the Indian subcontinent was divided into two by the British, creating India and Pakistan. 
More than 14 million people were displaced at the time, and about one million perished in the fighting that followed.
Arora moved from a Pakistani village, named Bela, to Delhi after living in several refugee camps and escaping the violence.
Meanwhile, Malak’s grandfather, Ahmed Rafiq, moved from the Indian city of Hoshiarpur to Pakistan’s Lahore.
Now in their 70s, both the grandparents yearn to go back home and see the places where they were born and spent their childhoods. 
However, the constant uncertainty in the relationship between India and Pakistan and their old age has made the task of visiting their respective birthplaces extremely difficult.
To fulfill the wishes of their grandparents, and several others who yearn to visit their ancestral homelands, Ahuja and Malak decided to launch Project Dastaan (story).
“What started as an idea for a student project last year at Oxford University became a larger peace-building venture,” Ahuja, the director of the project, said.
Project Dastaan is a university-backed virtual reality (VR) peace-building initiative reconnecting displaced survivors of partition with their childhood through bespoke 360-degree digital experiences.
Backed by the South Asia Programme at Oxford, it uses VR headsets to give these migrants, who are often over 80 years old, a virtual tour of their childhood towns and homes. It shows them the people and places they most want to see again by finding the exact locations and memories that the survivors seek to revisit, and recreates them.
“It is a creative effort to start a new kind of conversation based on the direct experience of a now-foreign country in the present, rather than relying upon records and memories from the past,” Ahuja told Arab News.
He added that Pakistan-based Khalid Bashir Rai “teared up after his VR experience, and told us we had transported him back” to his childhood.
“At its heart, the project is a poignant commentary on its own absurdity. By taking these refugees back we are trying to highlight the cultural impact of decades of divisive foreign policy and sectarian conflict on the subcontinent. This is a task for policymakers, not university students. In an ideal world, a project like this shouldn’t exist,” Ahuja said.
Other members of Project Dastaan — Saadia Gardezi and Sam Dalrymple — have a connection with partition, too. Gardezi grew up with partition stories; her grandmother volunteered at refugee camps in Lahore, and her grandfather witnessed terrible violence as a young man.
Dalrymple’s grandfather had been a British officer in India during the twilight years of the British Empire. So scarred was he by the partition that he never visited Dalrymple’s family in Delhi, even after 30 years of them living there.
“I think Dastaan is ultimately about stripping away the layers of politics and trying to solve a very simple problem: That children forced to leave their homes, have never been able to go back again,” Dalrymple told Arab News.
Ahuja added: “The partition projects are a peace offering in the heart of hostility. It is an attempt at creating a wider cultural dialogue between citizens and policymakers of the three countries.”
The project aims to reconnect 75 survivors of the partition of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh with their childhood memories, when the subcontinent observes 75 years of partition in 2022.
Project Dastaan is also producing a documentary called “Child of Empire” that will put viewers in the shoes of a 1947 partition migrant, and will be shown at film festivals and museums.