Indians in UAE worry for families at home as protests erupt against citizenship law

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Indian residents in the UAE cancelled trips home and told of their worry for family members as protests swept across India for a fifth day.

Expats due to return home for the winter school break watched social media videos of vehicles ablaze and angry demonstrations in their home towns.

University students across the country clashed with police at protests on Monday - a day after at least 50 were injured in Delhi.

Demonstrators are angry at a new law entitling citizenship to non-Muslim migrants including Christians and Hindus from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who settled in India prior to 2015.

My wife and kids felt it’s not safe and I did not want to go back when there is this atmosphere in my country

Mansoor Ali

They can be granted citizenship on grounds that they faced persecution in those countries. Critics claim the law weakens the country’s secular foundations and does not make the same provisions for Muslims, while others fear it will lead to large-scale migration to India.

Mansoor Ali, a 51-year-old health and safety manager in , and his family were due to travel home to Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday.

He cancelled their five airline tickets when dozens of students from Aligarh Muslim University were injured in clashes with police on Sunday.

“I could not sleep properly last night when I read about the violence," he told The National.

"It’s not just in my university but there are other places that there has been trouble. It is really shameful what is happening over this bill."

“We were all in a vacation mood but now everyone is upset. My wife and kids felt it’s not safe and I did not want to go back when there is this atmosphere in my country."

Protesters clash with police on a road during a demonstration against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill in Howrah, on the outskirts of Kolkata, West Bengal. AFP

A protester displays a placard during a demonstration against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill in New Delhi. AFP

Protesters display placards during a demonstration against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill in New Delhi. AFP

Protesters display placards during a demonstration against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill in New Delhi. AFP

Protesters opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act, a new law that grants Indian citizenship based on religion and excludes Muslims, throw stones at police at Santragachi in the Howrah district of West Bengal state. AP Photo

Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill in New Delhi. AFP

Left-wing activists of the Democratic Youth Federation of India shout slogans as they burn an effigy of India's Home Minister Amit Shah during a demonstration against the government's Citizenship Amendment Bill in Siliguri. AFP

Protesters block a road after setting buses on fire during a demonstration against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill in Howrah, on the outskirts of Kolkata, West Bengal. AFP

A demonstrator shouts slogans and holds a placard to protest against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Chennai on December 16, 2019. Fresh protests rocked India on December 16 as anger grew over new citizenship legislation slammed as anti-Muslim, after six people died in the northeast and up to 200 were injured in New Delhi. / AFP / Arun SANKAR

Police detain a demonstrator during a protest to show solidarity with the students of New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia university after police entered the university campus on Sunday following a protest against a new citizenship law, in Ahmedabad, India, December 16, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Police detain a demonstrator during a protest to show solidarity with the students of New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia university after police entered the university campus on Sunday following a protest against a new citizenship law, in Ahmedabad, India, December 16, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Students of Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama (House of Knowledge & Assembly of Scholars University) clash with police during a protest against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill. AFP / STR

Police detain demonstrators during a protest to show solidarity with the students of New Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia university after police entered the university campus on the previous day, following a protest against a new citizenship law, in Ahmedabad, India, December 16, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Demonstrators shout slogans and hold placards to protest against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Chennai on December 16, 2019. Fresh protests rocked India on December 16 as anger grew over new citizenship legislation slammed as anti-Muslim, after six people died in the northeast and up to 200 were injured in New Delhi. / AFP / Arun SANKAR

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The trouble in Aligarh began when the students attempted to take their march outside campus grounds and were stopped by police at the university gates. Officers said the order prohibiting protests on the streets was in place across the state.

M Khan, a 35-year-old Indian architect and alumni of Aligarh Muslim University, was due to fly to Delhi for the first time in five years to see friends and colleagues.

After seeing images of the trouble on the streets he decided to avoid Delhi and return home to Kanpur to see his parents.

"I am very concerned and Indian residents in the UAE are worried about what is happening back home," he said.

"I spent the night in fear yesterday as my friends were sharing videos of what the police were doing at Aligarh Muslim University.

India campus protest
India campus protest. Ramon Penas / The National

"My juniors were sending SOS messages and saying their lives were in danger."

Other UAE residents due to travel home were defiant.

Zubair Irshad, an Indian construction consultant in Dubai and an alumni of Jamia Millia Islamia University, where student protests were also held, refused to cancel his family's travel plans to Delhi, even though they live close to where clashes have occurred.

"We have to be brave to face the situation and cannot turn our back on the situation," he said.

And Sharjah resident Adil Akhtar also refused to cancel his plans to travel to Aligarh.

“Why should I cancel? Why should I run away?” said the civil engineer and alumni of Aligarh Muslim University.

He was angry that police were heavy handed with students on campus.

“If the students have done something wrong, the university authorities should deal with it and not the police," he said.

"Why should police enter an academic institution unless there are criminals or terrorists to catch?”

Television news network NDTV reported that city police smashed bikes on the streets and fired tear gas shells from the campus gate.

On Monday night Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm after days of trouble.

"No Indian has anything to worry regarding this act. This act is only for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go except India," he wrote on Twitter.

"This is the time to maintain peace, unity and brotherhood."

Updated: December 16, 2019 07:10 PM

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