Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for peace, unity and brotherhood Monday amid widening violent protests against his government's passing of amendments to the nation's citizenship act that critics say discriminate against Muslims.
"Violent protests on the Citizenship Amendment Act are unfortunate and deeply distressing," he said via Twitter. "Debate, discussion and dissent are essential parts of democracy but, never has damage to public property and disturbance of normal life been a part of our ethos."
At least five people have died since protesters took to the streets of India last week after the country's Parliament passed the act that makes it easier for migrants who entered the country illegally and believe in one of six religious, excluding Islam, to gain citizenship.
On Sunday, some 200 people were injured when security forces entered Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi and attacked students protesting, the school's Vice-Chancellor Najma Akhtar said, adding that the school plans to file a complaint against the force for entering its campus without permission and causing damage.
On Monday, students at universities nationwide including at Nadwa College in Lucknow, Maulana Azad Urdu University in Hyderabad, the Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi and several in the capital New Delhi, among others, joined in protests against the new law and the police's actions at Jamia Millia Islamia.
Modi defended the new law Monday, saying it passed both Houses of Parliament with "overwhelming support" and that it "illustrates India's centuries-old culture of acceptance, harmony, compassion and brotherhood."
"I want to unequivocally assure my fellow Indians that CAA does not affect any citizen of India of any religion," he said. "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."
Despite his claims of inclusion, Amnesty International says the act targets Muslims, "reeks of fear-mongering and bigotry" and stands against the nation's responsibilities as stated under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
"The government of India denies any form of discrimination but the amendments clearly weaponize the [National Register of Citizens] process against Muslims," said Amnesty International India Executive Director Avinash Kumar. "... The amendments also set a dangerous shift in the way citizenship will be determined in India."
Rahul Gandhi, a member of Parliament of the opposition Indian National Congress, echoed this sentiment Monday saying the citizenship law and the NRC are "weapons of mass polarization unleashed by fascists on India."
"The best defense against these dirty weapons is peaceful, non-violent [protest]," he said via Twitter. "I stand in solidarity with all those protesting against the CAB & NRC."