Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has defended the government’s new citizenship law, despite the major ongoing protests against it.
“We passed this bill to help the persecuted,” he said at a rally in Delhi. “We need to respect India’s Members of Parliament (MPs) and its parliament.”
More than 20 people have died in 10 days of clashes sparked by the bill, which critics see as anti-Muslim.
Protesters have continued to take to the streets in spite of police bans.
Several thousand people have also been detained and internet services have been suspended as the authorities battle to restore order.
The bill offers amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from three neighbouring countries.
Mr. Modi defended the legislation at a rally in the capital at the start of his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) campaign for state elections there.
At the rally, the prime minister accused political parties of “telling lies and spreading misinformation” about the bill.
He also condemned attacks on the police as well as on public transport, shops, and government property.
Mr. Modi maintained that the government had “never asked for anyone’s religion” when implementing major policies
He insisted that India’s Muslims – one in seven of India’s 1.35bn population – “don’t need to worry” about the bill.
Critics fear the new law – known as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) – undermines India’s secular constitution.
Passed earlier this month, it offers amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
The federal government said the law would protect religious minorities fleeing persecution – but the move has drawn criticism from opposition parties and international rights groups.
It is also controversial because it follows a government plan to publish a nationwide register of citizens that it said would identify illegal immigrants – namely, anyone who doesn’t have the documents to prove that their ancestors lived in India.
A National Register of Citizens (NRC) – published in the north-eastern state of Assam – saw 1.9 million people effectively made stateless.