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Indian Students Decry Police as Citizenship Protests Grow

Demonstrators throw stones towards police during a protest against a new citizenship law, in the Seelampur area of Delhi, India, Dec. 17, 2019.
Demonstrators throw stones towards police during a protest against a new citizenship law, in the Seelampur area of Delhi, India, Dec. 17, 2019.

Indian student protests that turned into violent clashes with police galvanized nationwide opposition on Tuesday to a new law that provides a path to citizenship for non-Muslim migrants who entered the country illegally from several neighboring countries.

Police fired tear gas in the Seelampur area of New Delhi to push back protesters who burned a police booth and two motorbikes after throwing stones and swarming barricades.

Roads leading to the Muslim-majority neighborhood were strewn with stones, tear gas canisters and shards of broken glass.

"We are protesting against the new citizenship law. They are saying if you don't have any proof (of citizenship) they will send us out of India," said 15-year-old Mohammad Shehzad.

Protests against the law were also reported in the states of West Bengal, Kerala, Karnataka and elsewhere. On Sunday, a march by students at New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia University descended into chaos when demonstrators set three buses on fire. Police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Videos showed officers running after unarmed protesters and beating them with wooden sticks.

Hanjala Mojibi, an English major at the predominantly Muslim school, said that when he and others saw police enter the campus, they walked toward them with their hands up to indicate their protest was nonviolent.

"The police made all 15 of us kneel and started beating us. They used lots of abusive words. One of them removed my prescription glasses, threw (them) on the ground, broke them and told me to look down," Mojibi said at a news conference in tears.

Anger in India Grows Over Controversial Citizenship Law
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Simultaneously on Sunday, police stormed Aligarh Muslim University in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh firing tear gas and injuring five people who were participating in a student-led demonstration, university spokesman Rahat Abrar said.

Shahid Hussain, a 25-year-old history major, said police broke the windows of his dormitory and lobbed a tear gas canister inside. He said after fleeing the building to escape the fumes, police pushed him against a tree and beat him with sticks.

Police spokesman Sunil Bainsla denied the account, calling the allegations of police brutality "lies."

The police response to Sunday's protests has drawn widespread condemnation. It also has sparked a broader movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act, with demonstrations erupting across the country.

The new law applies to Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally but can demonstrate religious persecution in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has described the law as a humanitarian gesture.

While it was being debated in Parliament last week, Home Minister Amit Shah said it was "not even .001% against minorities. It is against infiltrators." Modi told an election rally in eastern Jharkhand state on Tuesday that no Indian citizen would be affected by the law. Speaking about Sunday's protests, he accused the opposition Congress party of using students for political purposes.

Indian students take part in a rally against a new citizenship law, at Osmania University campus, in Hyderabad, India, Dec.17, 2019.
Indian students take part in a rally against a new citizenship law, at Osmania University campus, in Hyderabad, India, Dec.17, 2019.

"The decisions made by the government should be discussed and any voice should be raised in a democratic manner. This government understands your concerns but some people use your shoulder for firing a gun," he said. "I dare Congress, its friends, to publicly declare they are prepared to accord Indian citizenship to all Pakistanis."

Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi met President Ram Nath Kovind as the head of an opposition delegation and asked that the citizenship law be withdrawn.

Talking to reporters, Gandhi said she fears "the situation may spread further."

"I think you all have seen that the Modi government seems to have no compassion when it comes to shutting down people's voices and implementing legislation," she said. Critics of the government say the law is intended to help the ruling party transform a multicultural and secular India into a Hindu "rastra," or distinctly Hindu state and further marginalize India's 200 million Muslims.

India is 80% Hindu and 14% Muslim, which means it has one of the largest Muslim populations of any country in the world.

Police spokesman M.S. Randhawa said 10 people were arrested during Sunday's protest at Jamia Millia Islamia University from Jamia Nagar, a Muslim neighborhood near the university.

"We found out that the arrested men had instigated the crowds and were also responsible for vandalizing public property," Randhawa said.

Students said police lobbed tear gas shells inside the campus, broke down the doors of the library and yanked students out to assault them. Dozens of students were taken to hospitals for treatment.

Police have denied the allegations and said they acted with restraint.

The citizenship law follows a contentious citizenship registry process in northeastern India's Assam state intended to weed out people who immigrated to the country illegally.

Nearly 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 constructing a detention center for some of the tens of thousands of people the courts are expected to ultimately determine came to the country illegally.

Home Minister Shah has pledged to roll it out the program nationwide, promising to rid India of "infiltrators."

The Citizenship Amendment Act could provide protection and a fast track to naturalization for many of the Hindus left off Assam's citizenship list, while explicitly leaving out Muslims.

The backlash to the law came as an unprecedented crackdown continued in Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority area, which was stripped of special constitutional protections and its statehood in August. Since then, movement and communications have been restricted.

"Our country is not just for Hindus," said Chanda Yadav, 20, a Hindi literature student who was participating in a sit-in Monday at Jamia Millia Islamia University. "I feel it is my moral right to protest against something which divides us as a community."

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FILE - NAIA women’s basketball players gather after a game in St. Louis, Feb. 22, 2024. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, said Monday that transgender athletes would be all but banned from women's sports.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, announced a policy Monday that all but bans transgender athletes from competing in women's sports.

The NAIA's Council of Presidents approved the policy in a 20-0 vote. The NAIA, which oversees some 83,000 athletes at schools across the country, is believed to be the first college sports organization to take such a step.

According to the transgender participation policy, all athletes may participate in NAIA-sponsored male sports but only athletes whose biological sex assigned at birth is female and have not begun hormone therapy will be allowed to participate in women's sports.

A student who has begun hormone therapy may participate in activities such as workouts, practices and team activities, but not in interscholastic competition.

"With the exception of competitive cheer and competitive dance, the NAIA created separate categories for male and female participants," the NAIA said. "Each NAIA sport includes some combination of strength, speed and stamina, providing competitive advantages for male student-athletes. As a result, the NAIA policy for transgender student-athletes applies to all sports except for competitive cheer and competitive dance, which are open to all students."

There is no known number of transgender athletes at the high school and college levels, though it is believed to be small. The topic has become a hot-button issue for those for and against transgender athletes competing on girls' and women's sports teams.

At least 24 states have laws barring transgender women and girls from competing in certain women's or girls sports competitions. Last month, more than a dozen current and former college athletes filed a federal lawsuit against the NCAA, accusing the sports governing body for more than 500,000 athletes of violating their rights by allowing transgender women to compete in women's sports.

The Biden administration originally planned to release a new federal Title IX rule — the law forbids discrimination based on sex in education — addressing both campus sexual assault and transgender athletes. But earlier this year, the department decided to split them into separate rules, and the athletics rule now remains in limbo even as the sexual assault policy moves forward.

Hours after the NAIA announcement, the NCAA released a statement: "College sports are the premier stage for women's sports in America and the NCAA will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women's sports and ensure fair competition for all student-athletes in all NCAA championships."

The NCAA has had a policy for transgender athlete participation in place since 2010, which called for one year of testosterone suppression treatment and documented testosterone levels submitted before championship competitions. In 2022, the NCAA revised its policies on transgender athlete participation in an attempt to align with national sport governing bodies, following the lead of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

The three-phase implementation of the policy included a continuation of the 2010 policy, requiring transgender women to be on hormone replacement therapy for at least one year, plus the submission of a hormone-level test before the start of both the regular season and championship events.

The third phase adds national and international sport governing body standards to the NCAA's policy and is scheduled to be implemented for the 2024-25 school year on August 1.

There are some 15.3 million public high school students in the United States and a 2019 study by the CDC estimated 1.8% of them — about 275,000 — are transgender. The number of athletes within that group is much smaller; a 2017 survey by Human Rights Campaign suggested fewer than 15% of all transgender boys and transgender girls play sports.

The number of NAIA transgender athletes would be far smaller.

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