- Massive protests have spread all over India after a controversial citizenship bill became law.
- The law gives citizenship to religious minorities who illegally immigrated to India from specific countries but does not include Muslims.
- On Sunday, a peaceful protest at a primarily Muslim university became violent when police forcefully entered the campus, beating students with wooden sticks and firing tear gas.
- Protests continued across India Monday, with large demonstrations being held in solidarity with university students who were attacked by police the day before.
Controversial Citizenship Bill Prompts Protests
Huge protests have continued to spread all over India after the country’s government approved a controversial citizenship bill last week.
The legislation, known as Citizenship Amendment Bill, provides a path to citizenship for religious minorities who illegally immigrated to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
The legislation names six religions that would be eligible for citizenship but does not include Muslims.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other supporters of the bill have said it will protect persecuted religious minorities who migrate to India from predominantly Muslim countries.
Opponents of the bill have said that it is just a very targeted plan by Modi and his Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, to discriminate against the nearly 200 million Muslims in India who compose about 15% of the country’s population.
Many have argued that it would make it easier for the government to jail and deport Muslim residents in India.
This could include those whose families have lived in the country for years or even generations but might not have proof of citizenship, which in turn could leave millions of Muslims in India stateless.
Other critics of the legislation, including legal scholars, have said that it would violate India’s constitution because India is a secular country, and its constitution says that all religions must be treated equally.
Last Monday, India’s lower house of Parliament passed the bill, prompting a number of small, but largely peaceful, protests.
Those protests, however, have grown dramatically in the last week after the upper house of Parliament passed the bill Wednesday. The next day, India’s president approved the bill, officially making it a law.
Following the approval of the legislation, demonstrations erupted in several northeastern cities where the law could potentially have the biggest impact on immigration.
The Indian government responded by shutting down the internet and deploying troops in several areas in the region. Since then, the protests have continued, growing and spreading to major cities and other areas all over India.
At the same time, police significantly ratcheting up the use of violence against the protestors.
According to reports, police said Sunday that at least six people were killed and more than a hundred were injured in protests in the northeastern state of Assam.
Police Attack Student Protestors at Muslim-Majority University
Also on Sunday, hundreds were injured when a protest turned violent at Jamia Millia Islamia, a primarily Muslim university in New Delhi.
According to reports, students organized a large demonstration that many witnesses said started out peacefully.
The protest escalated when police stormed the campus after nearby busses and vehicles were set on fire. University authorities said the students did not burn the vehicles.
Videos circulated on social media showing officers beating students with wooden sticks and firing tear gas at them. Police also could be seen chasing students into the library and bathrooms, where they reportedly continued to beat them.
The police allegedly fired tear gas into the library and other enclosed areas like classrooms and reportedly attacked a mosque where some students were praying
One widely circulated video showed a man who tried to escape police by running into a women’s hostel being dragged out and beat by the police forces.
In the video, a group of female students can be seen trying to fight off the police who continue to hit the man and poke at the women with wooden poles, even after the man had been beaten to the ground.
Officials at nearby hospitals said that more than 100 people were brought in after the violence, and it has been reported that nearly 100 students were detained.
University officials condemned police, saying that they had entered the campus by force and without permission. The university’s vice-chancellor also told reporters that they would be filing a court case against the police.
But Delhi police have defended their actions, claiming they responded to violence started by the students.
Police also reportedly used similar tactics on Sunday at Aligarh Muslim University, another primarily Muslim college, where dozens of officers forcefully entered the campus and attacked students with batons and tear gas.
Despite the violence the day before, protests continued in India Monday, with large demonstrations being held in a number of major cities in solidarity with the university students who were attacked by the police.
As the protests continued, Modi took to Twitter to call for calm.
“Violent protests on the Citizenship Amendment Act are unfortunate and deeply distressing,” he wrote. “Debate, discussion and dissent are essential parts of democracy but, never has damage to public property and disturbance of normal life been a part of our ethos.”
Modi also argued that the citizenship law “illustrates India’s centuries old culture of acceptance, harmony, compassion and brotherhood,” and described the protestors as “vested interest groups” who were trying “to divide us and create disturbance.”
On the other side, Amnesty International India issued a statement urging the Indian government to “respect the right to dissent” by the students, and also investigate the allegations of police brutality.
“Students have the right to protest. Violence against peacefully protesting students cannot under any circumstance be justified,” the statement said. “Allegations that the police brutally beat up and sexually harassed students in Jamia Millia Islamia University must be investigated.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera) (BBC)
China Cautiously Crawls Out of Zero COVID Policy
Estimates put the number of people who will die if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.
People Go Back to Bars
The Chinese government has begun to ease some of its notoriously strict pandemic lockdown measures, signaling that the end of the “zero-COVID” policy may be on the horizon.
On Monday, commuters in Beijing and at least 16 other cities were allowed to board buses and subways without a virus test in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months.
In Shanghai, visitors to most sites will require a negative test within the last week, rather than the last two days, though schools, hospitals, and bars will require one within the past 48 hours.
Dining in restaurants in some parts of Beijing is still prohibited, but bars and restaurants in many areas of the country are reopening.
In Urumqi, where anti-lockdown protests erupted late last month after an apartment fire killed 10 people, authorities said in a statement Monday that malls, markets, and other venues will reopen.
Zhengzhou, the central city home to the world’s largest iPhone plant which was last month rocked by violent unrest, will no longer require COVID test results for public transport, taxis, and visits to “public areas”, authorities said in a Sunday statement.
Beijing authorities had required registration to purchase fever, cough, and soar throat medicine, which they believed people were using to hide their coronavirus infections, but that mandate has been lifted. Certain districts in the capital also announced that some residents may self-isolate inside their homes rather than being forced to quarantine in a centralized facility.
Is China Ready to Reopen?
Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said last week that the country’s health system had withstood the test of the virus and that the omicron subvariant is less deadly than previous strains.
But there has not been a significant drop in cases recently to prompt the easing of restrictions. On Monday, the government reported 30,014 new cases, down from last week’s peak of over 40,000 but still near record highs for China.
Some observers speculate that the government’s move was related to the recent protests, in which thousands of people poured onto the streets of several major cities to demand freedom and an end to the zero-COVID policy. Authorities cracked down on demonstrators, and any mention of the protests was rigorously censored on Chinese social media.
There was no sign of any significant unrest this weekend.
Although many people are excited to enjoy less restricted lives and restart a shuddered economy, others are concerned about the public health consequences reopening society could incur. Estimates put the number of people who will die from the coronavirus if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.
Last week, the government launched a campaign to vaccinate the elderly population.
Only about 40% of people over the age of 80 have gotten their booster shot, according to official statistics.
Health experts and economists say vaccination rates and ICU preparedness won’t be sufficient to fully end the zero-COVID policy until mid-2023 or 2024.
See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (Reuters)
India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People
The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.
After seven months of renovations, the Morbi walking bridge in India opened to the public. Four days later, the bridge collapsed, killing more than 130 people.
According to the local government, there were about 200 people on the bridge when it collapsed on Sunday, despite its capacity of 125.
During a campaign event on Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the state government had set up a committee to investigate the tragedy.
“I assure the people of the country that there will be nothing lacking in the relief and rescue efforts,” he stated.
Along with the investigation, the state has launched a criminal complaint against Oreva Group, the company responsible for maintaining the bridge. Oreva Group reopened the bridge after renovations without getting a safety certificate from the government.
In response, Oreva Group spoke to a local news outlet and blamed those on the bridge for its collapse.
“While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” the group claimed.
The state government has offered compensation for the families of the deceased, but that is not enough for some. One father whose wife and two children died in the collapse told VICE he wants answers and accountability.
“Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.
Indian police have arrested nine people including ticketing clerks and security guards for failing to regulate the crowd, according to Reuters.
Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals
Despite the staggering power grab, Xi faces geopolitical competition from abroad as well as social and economic instability at home.
Xi Surrounds Himself With Allies
Chinese President Xi Jinping shook up politics over the weekend when he revealed the government’s new leadership, almost exclusively composed of his own hardline loyalists.
Six men — Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi — will form the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body.
The four new members are all Xi loyalists, pushing out Premier Li Keqiang and the head of China’s top advisory body Wang Yang, two key party figures outside Xi’s inner circle who retired despite being eligible to serve another term.
For the first time in a quarter-century, China’s 24-member Politburo will be made up entirely of men, underlining the exclusion of women from Chinese politics.
An official account of the selection process said that a top criterion for leadership was loyalty to Xi, and rising officials must stay in lockstep with him “in thinking, politics and action.”
Topping off the developments, Xi officially secured an unprecedented third term as leader, something that was only made possible in 2018 when the government abolished term limits on the presidency. The weekend marked China’s greatest consolidation of political power in a single figure in decades.
As the 20th Communist Party Congress came to a close Saturday, China’s former leader Hu Jintao appeared reluctant as he was suddenly and inexplicably escorted from his seat next to Xi out of the Great Hall of the People.
Some commentators have argued that a tightly knit band of yes men may help Xi fend off internal party dissent, but it could ultimately result in poor governance as his subordinates fear giving him bad news.
The Arc of History Bends Toward China
Despite the extreme concentration of political power, China’s Communist Party stares down a gauntlet of challenges both foreign and domestic.
Beijing remains locked in a strategic competition with Washington, which has sought to contain the East Asian rival’s rise as a global superpower, but the past week’s congress may portend a stubbornly defiant China for years to come.
Xi is expected to use his firmly secure position within the party to pursue his agenda in full force — by strengthening Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, expanding China’s economic foothold in developing countries, and achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies such as semiconductors.
At home, China’s economy has faltered during the pandemic, with high unemployment, low consumption, and slow economic growth putting pressure on a government that stakes much of its legitimacy on promises to deliver prosperity to the population. Between July and September, the country’s GDP grew by 3.9%, according to official data released Monday, which is above many analysts’ expectations but still far below the state’s target of around 5.5%.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics postponed the data’s publication last week ahead of the 20th party congress, reinforcing concerns that Xi’s leadership will put politics before economics.
Monday’s announcement roiled stock markets, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index plunging 6%, as well as the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Composite Index both falling by about 2%.
Beijing has also seen increased political resistance from the population, from anti-lockdown protests in Shanghai to widespread mortgage boycotts over delays from real estate developers.
Last week, a man unfurled two large banners from an overpass in Beijing and called President Xi a “dictator” through a megaphone.
Such small-scale demonstrations are not new, but they took place in the capital just before the congress drew enough attention for photos of the stunt to go viral on social media, where an equally swift censorship campaign stamped out any mention of it.