Dozens of Long Islanders traveled from a Westbury mosque into Manhattan on Sunday to protest new citizenship regulations in India they said discriminate against Muslims.
The protesters joined thousands of others outside the Indian consulate on the Upper East Side — one of many demonstrations around the United States on Sunday timed to coincide with Republic Day, a national holiday in India.
The citizenship regulations, pushed through by India's nationalist-led government, undermine the commitment to secularism enshrined in the country's constitution, said Habeeb Ahmed, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury.
Ahmed helped organize the Westbury group's participation in the demonstration.
"It is very, very difficult and very painful right now for the whole community," he said.
Similar protests have riven India since the country's parliament in December amended a citizenship law to fast track naturalization for some immigrants who fled Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh because of religious persecution and then illegally entered India. The amendment excludes Muslims, which critics have decried as discriminatory and unconstitutional.
The administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, has defended the change as a humanitarian gesture and dismissed the protests as orchestrated by opponents and provocateurs.
Imran Pasha, New York chapter president of the Indian American Muslim Council, said Sunday that he believes the true aim of the amendment and related measures is to disenfranchise Muslims and force them to convert to Hinduism.
"These are purely discriminatory," said Pasha, who also helped organize the Westbury contingent. "We really condemn this. We want to protest this."
For many of the Long Island protesters, the issue is personal.
"A lot of my family members are still there," said Neha Ali, a Muslim Indian-American who lives in East Meadow.
"The fact that they have to go through that and deal with it — it's not right," said Ali, 27, a doctor.
Ali and others then boarded two buses bound for the demonstration.
"We are very thankful that we are in this country and have the right to protest and the right to raise our voices," Ahmed said.
With The Associated Press