HYDERABAD-Over one hundred thousand protesters, many carrying the Indian tricolour flag, took part in a peaceful march in the southern city of Hyderabad on Saturday, chanting slogans against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new citizenship law.

The protest, dubbed the ‘Million March’, was organised by an umbrella group of Muslim and civil society organisations. More than 40 percent of Hyderabad’s estimated population of nearly 7 million is Muslims.

Demonstrators were still pouring into the protest site late on Saturday afternoon, according to a Reuters witness, despite police saying no march would be allowed and that permission had only been granted for a 1,000-person gathering. The Indian government has faced weeks of acrimonious and, at times, violent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was passed by Modi’s government in December.

The Hyderabad protesters held placards with slogans including “Withdraw CAA immediately,” and “India’s only religion in Secularism.” The Reuters witness said the protest remained peaceful, and estimated that more than one hundred thousand people were in attendance.

The new law eases the path for non-Muslim minorities from the neighbouring Muslim-majority nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to gain Indian citizenship. But, if combined with a proposed national register of citizens, critics of the CAA fear it will discriminate against minority Muslims in India and chip away at India’s secular constitution.

Modi’s government maintains the new law is necessary to help minorities facing persecution in Muslim-majority nations, and it has called the pan-India protests politically motivated. At least 27 people have been killed in protest-related clashes with police since early December.

Elsewhere, protests against the CAA also went ahead in several other Indian cities on Saturday with hundreds turning out for protests in cities in the southern state of Karnataka.

Meanwhile, hundreds of men and women gathered at a rally in the tech hub of Bengaluru, with some accusing Modi’s government of trying to divide India along communal lines, to distract from a sharp domestic economic slowdown and job losses.

The Phule Ambedkari Gauravshali Aur Adarshwadi Muhim (PAGAAM), a non-government organisation that works to uplift the weaker sections of society, on Friday organised a protest outside Gurdwara Sahib Singh Shaheedan in Mohali, where hundreds of people could be seen lined up, holding anti-NRC placards, appealing to the people to ‘Save the constitution of India.’

“The Citizenship Amendment Act is against everything that our Indian Constitution stands for,” suggested S R Ladhar, a member of PAGAAM, citing Article 16 of the constitution. “But no matter what, we refuse to be divided on religious grounds. And we will not let the government discriminate against people based on their caste, creed, sect or religion,” he added.

He claimed that the new citizenship law is meant to specifically target minorities. While any protest runs the risk of turning violent, Ladhar asserted, “We protest in a very peaceful fashion. We all show up in black clothing and the Sikhs in black turbans, symbolic of the Black Day that we are observing for our Indian democracy. The women are clad in dark chunris. We stand in a linear formation. We do not even shout out any slogans, much less resort to any form of violence and vandalism.”

Ladhar continued, “Our aim is to simply have our voices heard. And we do so, not by clogging up traffic, or setting ablaze any public property, but by staging a peaceful demonstration. We just mean to send out a message that we stand in solidarity with all those students and other citizens who have been fighting tirelessly to preserve secularism in the country in face of this attempt to erode the values enshrined in our constitution.”

Ladhar, who is a retired bureaucrat, said, “Here we have people coming from different religions. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs are all in the mix. All we want is the Centre to do away with the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act, as it poses a grave threat to the minority groups.”