India might have rolled out the red carpet for President Trump’s Monday visit, but the massive rally, hundreds of cheerleaders and weeks of preparation glossed over one of the largest civil disputes that’s gripped the country in years.
One day before the televised hug-fest between Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, police used tear gas to break up large crowds in the country’s capital of New Delhi as a fresh wave of violence broke out over a new citizenship law that Modi’s political party supports.
Since the law’s passage in December, protests have taken place nationwide in large cities like Mumbai and Kolkata as well as in smaller locales. The Citizenship Amendment Act makes religion a criterion for nationality in India’s citizenship law for the first time in history. The law lets Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally to become citizens if they can prove they were persecuted because of their religion in the Muslim-majority countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The measure does not apply to Muslims seeking citizenship.
Critics have slammed the law as a violation of the country’s secular constitution and have labeled it the latest effort by Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims.
When India became independent in 1947, its founders said it wanted to create a secular nation where all religions were welcomed versus neighboring Pakistan, which was widely considered a home for Muslims. Critics claim the new law is betraying the very foundation India was built on. Modi, however, has repeatedly defended the law as a humanitarian gesture.
On Sunday, New Delhi police fired tear gas into a crowd to break up clashes between hundreds of supporters and opponents of the citizenship law.
Protesters blocked busy roads and there were reports of several sit-ins. Some groups threw rocks and bricks at each other, while others set vehicles on fire.
Three people were killed in the clash, one police officer and two Muslim civilians. Dozens of others were injured.
Arvind Kejriwal, New Delhi’s highest elected official, tweeted that the violence was “very distressing.”
The clashes were among the worst seen in India’s capital since the citizenship law went into effect.
Parts of the city remain tense as Trump prepares for talks on Tuesday.
On Monday, Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, visited India’s iconic Taj Mahal. Hours earlier they attended the rally dubbed “Namaste Trump,” in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
At the event, Trump, who loves to play to a big audience, was met with a standing ovation as he spoke to a crowd estimated to be more than 110,000 packed into the world’s largest cricket stadium. At the event, Trump declared America’s love for India and its solidarity with its people and also announced a military partnership with the Indian government.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.