NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian police on Thursday detained a man who allegedly fired a pistol near a university in New Delhi where students were protesting a new citizenship law that excludes Muslims.
The man challenged protesters as they started marching from the university to the mausoleum of India’s independence leader Mohandas Gandhi on his death anniversary, said Ahmed Azeem, a Jamia Millia Islamia University spokesman.
The shooting injured one student in the hand. An eyewitness said the man fired the shot when the police tried to overpower him.
The man’s name wasn’t released. As he was taken away by police, the man told reporters he was named “Ram Bhakt Gopal.” Ram Bhakt means a devotee of the Hindu god Rama.
A man with a Facebook account under the same name livestreamed himself near the campus shortly before firing his pistol.
Chinmay Biswal, a senior police officer, said police were investigating the shooting. The man’s name wasn’t immediately released.
Gandhi was shot dead by a Hindu extremist during a prayer meeting in the Indian capital in 1948 because he was considered sympathetic toward Muslims during the partition of the Indian subcontinent by British colonialists in 1947 into secular India and Islamic Pakistan.
Separately, about 1,000 protesters, including a large number of women carrying Gandhi’s portraits, assembled at the 17th century Jama Masjid. They sang India’s national anthem after they were prevented by the police from marching to nearby Gandhi’s mausoleum.
“Stop hatred, Unite India,” “Where is secularism?” said the placards carried by the protesters some of whom also waved India’s national flag.
Protests against a citizenship law that provides fast-track naturalization for those fleeing religious persecution from several countries, but not Muslims, have brought tens of thousands of people from different faiths and backgrounds together across the country, in part because the law is seen by critics as part of a larger threat to the secular fabric of Indian society.
Protests of the law in Delhi began at the mainly Muslim Jamia Millia Islamia University, where after a bus was set on fire police pursued protesters, shooting teargas canisters into the campus library and beating students with batons.
The law approved by Parliament on Dec. 11 allows Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities from Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who are in India illegally to become citizens. Leaders of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party say Muslims were excluded because persecution on religious grounds isn’t possible in Muslim-majority countries.
Critics have slammed the legislation as a violation of India’s secular constitution, which guarantees equal protection for all, and have called it the latest effort by the Modi government to marginalize the country’s 200 million Muslims. Modi has defended the law as a humanitarian gesture. Dozens of petitions challenging the law are pending with the Supreme Court.