India protests rage against citizenship law, but Modi defiant

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India's Supreme Court on Wednesday postponed hearing pleas challenging the constitutionality of a new citizenship law that has sparked opposition and massive protests across the country. The matter will now be taken up next year on January 22.

The government says it will protect people from persecution, but critics say it is part of a "Hindu nationalist" agenda to marginalise India's Muslims.

In what will be perceived as a temporary breather to the Narendra Modi government, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday that it would not be granting a stay on implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

He said that the law is violating of India's own constitution.

Police fired shots in the air as thousands of protesters took to the streets on Tuesday in the latest clashes in the Indian capital over a new law that makes it easier for non-Muslims from three neighboring countries to gain citizenship. Almost 2 million people in Assam were excluded from the list, about half Hindu and half Muslim, and have been asked to prove their citizenship or else be considered foreign. India is building a detention centre for some of the tens of thousands of people the courts are expected to ultimately determine have entered illegally.

"These infiltrators are eating away our country like termites", BJP president and home minister Amit Shah said at an April rally.

Modi champions a hardline brand of Hindu nationalism known as Hindutva, which aims to define Indian culture in terms of Hindu history and values and which promotes an exclusionary attitude toward Muslims.

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Several students were injured in police action during a protest last week by students of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi.

The citizenship law follows the revocation of the special status of the Muslim-majority Kashmir region, and a court ruling clearing the way for the construction of a Hindu temple on the site of a mosque razed by Hindu zealots. Videos shared on social media purport to show bloodied protesters running and hiding in the university's restrooms and library.

The one-two punch of the citizenship act following on the heels of the summer's citizenship registry explains why Assam has witnessed some of the most violent protests of the past week, some Indians say.

In response to the demonstrations, the government, whether at the national or at state and local levels, has sent out police forces that have in some cases resorted to harsh repressive measures, even firing on and killing some protesters.

A group of academicians, intellectuals, and research scholars have issued a statement in support of the recently passed Citizenship (Amendment) Act, stating that any opposition to the act is not in the best interest of the country.

Mr Modi told a rally for a state election on Tuesday (local time) that his political rivals were trying to mislead students and others to stir up protests.

The protests against the legislation - which fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslims from three neighbouring countries - have claimed six lives so far in the northeastern state of Assam.

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