Protesters in India hand flowers to the police despite brutal crackdown

Several protestors were photographed offering roses to police officers during demonstrations in New Delhi on December 19. A symbolic gesture, as nine demonstrators have been killed since the start of the protests, which are against a controversial new citizenship law that excludes Muslims.

Tens of thousands of Indians took to the streets in several different cities on December 19 to protest against the government’s decision to change citizenship laws, defying new bans on public assembly that have come into force across large swathes of the country.

At least three people were killed in clashes with the police, which reportedly broke out in several different states. These new deaths bring the total number of people who have been killed since protests began last week to nine.

In the capital, New Delhi -- just a few days after 125 people were injured during a violent police crackdown on protests on the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia University -- police arrested hundreds of demonstrators in an attempt to crush the uprising. To the surprise of the officers, some protesters responded by handing them roses. On social media, several photos of this initiative on the part of protestors went viral.




One photo in particular, of a young woman handing a rose to a police officer, was widely shared on social media.
“I want to convey to them that students are not violent, we are just opposing government policies in a peaceful way,” the student, 21-year-old Shreya Priyam Roy, told The Hindu in a phone interview.



Shantanu, another student protester, told French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the red roses were a kind of peace offering to the police.

"Because this is not a fight against the police but against the government, an almost fascist government," he said.

“They can [charge at] us as much as they want, we will still offer them roses. Love in return for hatred. We are ready to face their tear gas and water cannons,” another protester told the Press Trust of India (PTI).

New Delhi police also shared positive images, posting photos on Twitter of officers interacting with protesters and even offering them tea, biscuits and water.


Photos posted by ANI press agency show police officers offering snacks to protesters who were being detained in nearby stadiums for having breached bans on assembly.


The widespread protests against the new citizenship law proposed by the Hindu nationalist government has been one of the biggest challenges faced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The new law facilitates the granting of Indian nationality to refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bangladesh, who are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or members of other religious minorities. Importantly, the reform excludes Muslims. The protesters believe that this law is aimed at marginalising Muslims and is part of the ultra-nationalist political agenda of the prime minister.

Early on the morning of December 20, clashes broke out again in Lucknow, the capital of the large, northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Late last week, large swathes of the country were still facing internet blackouts. Bans on assembly also remained in place. Many mosques took additional security measures on Friday, the most important day of prayer for Muslims.

>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS:

Activists help 2 million Assam residents fight to keep Indian citizenship