A gunman has fired a shot at a protest rally against India’s new citizenship law near Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) university in the capital New Delhi, witnesses said.
“He [the gunman] was shouting, Delhi Police Zindabad [long live Delhi police] … who wants Azadi [freedom] come I’ll shoot you. And then he shot one fire,” said witness Nazim Qazi, who was also part of the protest, “A student named Shadab was hurt and has been taken to nearby Holy Family hospital,” he added.
Another witness told Al Jazeera that JMI students were marching towards the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s independence struggle, when the attack happened.
The march was organised to coincide with the death anniversary of Gandhi, who was killed by a member of the Hindu far right, Nathuram Godse, in 1948.
The victim has now been moved to the trauma centre of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi, sources said.
A photograph circulated by the Reuters news agency showed the man, dressed in a black jacket and brandishing a single-barrel weapon, standing metres away from dozens of policemen deployed outside the university, where protesters had gathered for the march.
Witnesses said the assailant shouted slogans against the protesters before firing at them.
“The police stood nearby,” Ahmed Zahir, a witness, told Reuters.
The assailant has been identified as 19-year-old Ram Bhagat Gopal Sharma, according to Al Jazeera sources and local media. He is a resident of the Jewar neighbourhood of Gautam Buddha Nagar district in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
The deputy commissioner of police in Southeast Delhi said they had arrested the suspect, adding that the investigation was ongoing into the incident.
The suspect’s purported Facebook page showed that he called himself Rambhakt (a devotee of lord Ram). He was live on Facebook just before the attack, the page shows.
Weeks of protests
Protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which fast-tracks Indian citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from three neighbouring countries, have flared since last December.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government insists the law is required to help persecuted minorities who fled to India before 2015 from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
However, protesters insist the law – as well as a proposed national register for citizens – discriminates against the country’s Muslim minority and violates India’s secular constitution.
In recent days, leaders from Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have called for action against the protesters, whom they call unpatriotic.
This week, Indian Junior Finance Minister Anurag Thakur encouraged supporters at a state election rally in New Delhi to chant slogans calling for traitors to be shot, drawing a reprimand from the country’s election commission.
Last month, Delhi police stormed the JMI library and beat students who were protesting against CAA. Dozens of students were injured in the police action that caused a public outcry.