India’s main opposition Congress party president Sonia Gandhi speaks during a silent protest against new citizenship law, in New Delhi, India on Monday. AP
India’s main opposition party staged a silent protest in the capital on Monday against a contentious new citizenship law, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended the legislation at a rally in New Delhi and accused the opposition of pushing the country into a "fear psychosis.”
The protest was led by Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi along with other senior party leaders. Around 2,000 people joined the protest at the Raj Ghat, a memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi, where the party demanded "protection for the constitution and the rights of people enshrined in it.”
Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to India’s streets to call for the revocation of the law, which critics say is the latest effort by Modi’s government to marginalize the country’s 200 million Muslims.
The Congress party’s former president Rahul Gandhi had urged young people in New Delhi to join the protest.
"It’s not good enough just to feel Indian. At times like these it’s critical to show that you’re Indian & won’t allow to be destroyed by hatred,” Gandhi tweeted on Monday.
Other protests were held across the country on Monday, including in the southern cities of Bengalore and Kochi.
Twenty-three people have been killed nationwide since the citizenship law was passed in Parliament earlier this month in protests that represent the first major roadblock for Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda since his party’s landslide reelection last spring.
Most of the deaths have occurred in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where 20% of the state’s 200 million people are Muslim.
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An interior ministry official said the government expected all state security officials to be on duty on Christmas Eve and through the holiday week.
At least 25 people have been killed in protests across the country since the law, seen as discriminatory towards Muslims, was adopted on Dec. 11.
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