The internet was cut off in parts of India’s largest state as the authorities stepped up their response to the wave of protests that have swept the country in recent weeks.
More than 120 people have been arrested in India’s biggest state of Uttar Pradesh for inflammatory posts on social media relating to the contentious new citizenship law that sparked the demonstrations.
Critics accuse the ruling Bharatiya Janata party of marginalising Muslims with the new law, which offers fast-track citizenship to people from Muslim-majority neighbours such as Pakistan but excludes Muslims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defended the legislation and blamed the unrest on the opposition.
Violent confrontations have become frequent and more than 20 people have died in clashes with security forces. The majority of fatalities have taken place in Uttar Pradesh. Thousands of people have been detained in the weeks since the protests erupted.
“We have temporarily suspended internet services in 21 districts because we presume there should be no circulation of fake news,” said Prakash Singh, Uttar Pradesh’s director-general of police.
State police said on Thursday that they had arrested 124 people in the past week for “posting inciting content” on social media, according to local broadcaster Asian News International.
Mr Modi’s government has insisted that Muslims will face no discrimination and cast the protests as a law and order issue. Mr Modi at a recent rally in New Delhi said that the opposition was manufacturing a “fear psychosis” and “lies are being spread”.
India’s army chief also drew criticism for weighing in on the protests, which mark the first major backlash to Mr Modi’s government after winning a landslide victory in May.
“Leaders are not those who lead people in inappropriate directions, as we are witnessing in a large number of university and college students,” said General Bipin Rawat this week. “The way they are leading masses of crowds to carry out arson and violence in our cities and towns. This is not leadership.”
In response, Congress spokesman Brijesh Kalappa tweeted: “Army chief Bipin Rawat speaking against #CAAProtests is wholly against constitutional democracy.”
Many Indians, including moderate Hindus, are deeply unhappy with the government’s policies. “India was considered the biggest democracy in the world, but this is the first time we are seeing such discriminatory acts,” said Feroz Hussain, 33, a businessman at a protest in the New Delhi suburb of Jor Bagh.
Two hundred protesters, including women and some children, had gathered on the street where police wearing riot gear patrolled the area. A police drone flew over the crowd carrying the Indian flag. “It is scary,” said Mr Hussain. “Mr Modi is breaking the secular spirit of India.”