LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) – The chief minister of India’s Uttar Pradesh state has rebuffed accusations from rights groups of police abuses during protests against a new citizenship law, crediting his tough stand with restoring calm to the streets.
The northern state has seen the most violent turmoil over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s citizenship law, which activists say is discriminatory towards the Muslim community, which makes up some 14% of India’s population.
Out of at least 25 people who have been killed since the protests began this month, 19 were in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s most populous state.
The clashes in the state appear to have eased over the past week, however, although small-scale demonstrations are still taking place.
The state’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, a hardline Hindu priest who belongs to Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party, said his tough policies had ended the trouble.
“Every rioter is shocked. Every troublemaker is astonished. Looking at the strictness of the Yogi government, everyone is silent,” one of Adityanath’s verified official accounts on Twitter said late on Friday.
“Do whatever you want to, but the damages will be paid by those who cause damages,” it added.
Last week, his government said it was demanding millions of rupees from more than 200 people, threatening to confiscate their property to pay for damage during the protests.
Rights groups have decried what they say have been mass detentions and excessive force in the state, where officers have arrested more than 1,000 people.
The citizenship legislation makes it easier for members of religious minorities from India’s Muslim-majority neighbors – Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – who settled in India before 2015 get citizenship but does not offer the same concession to Muslims.
Critics say the law – and plans for a national citizenship register – discriminate against Muslims and are an attack on the secular constitution by Modi’s government.
The government has said no citizen will be affected and there is no imminent plans for a register.
But a video circulating on social media is likely to compound the concerns of those worried about the plight of Muslims. It shows a senior UP police officer telling a demonstrator to “go to Pakistan if you don’t want to live here”.
The official, Akhilesh Narayan Singh, told Reuters that some protesters had been shouting pro-Pakistan slogans.
“It is in this situation I told them to go to Pakistan,” he said on Saturday.
Officials from the opposition Congress party were set to lead protests on Saturday under the slogan “Save Constitution-Save India”.
“They can punish us, throw us in jail, siphon our property but they will not be able to stop us from continuing our protest,” said Akhilesh Tomar, a student activist who has teamed up with the Congress to coordinate protests in four Muslim-dominated districts of UP.
Protests were also planned in the northeastern state of Assam, where migration has long been an emotive political issue, with protesters expecting increasing turnout in smaller towns.
Meanwhile, Hindu activists associated with Modi’s party were conducting workshops in slums in an effort to ease public discontent.
“We have to explain the facts to the common people who are being misled against the law by the opposition,” said Ram Naresh Tanwar, a member of a group called the Hindu Jagran Samiti, or Hindu awareness committee, in New Delhi.
Additional reporting by Rupam Jain in Mumbai, Zarir Hussain in Guwahati, Amit Dave in Ahmedabad; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer, Robert Birsel