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New Citizenship Act in India sparks protests

17 January 2020

The new law fast-tracks applications for those of religions other than Islam


People take part in a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens, in New Delhi, on Saturday

People take part in a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens, in New Delhi, on Saturday

A NEW law that fast-tracks citizenship for immigrants from religions other than Islam is “the beginning of the dark ages in modern India”, a Supreme Court lawyer has told Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, which came into effect last Friday, has been described as “fundamentally discriminatory in nature” by the UN human-rights office, and has brought tens of thousands of protesters to the streets.

It states that “any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31 December, 2014 . . . shall not be treated as [an] illegal migrant.”

Opponents argue that it goes against India’s constitution in basing citizenship on a person’s religion. In comments on Sunday reported by The Hindu, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, argued that the Act was “not about taking away citizenship, it is about giving citizenship. . . We must all know that any person of any religion from any country of the world who believes in India and its Constitution can apply for Indian citizenship through due process.”

It was a move to offer protection to persecuted minorities, he said: “We’ve only done what Mahatma Gandhi had said decades ago. Should we send these refugees back to die? Are they our responsibility or not? . . . Pakistan will now have to answer why they have been persecuting minorities for the last 70 years.”

The Act follows other moves that have alarmed India’s Muslim minority. In August, the Indian government imposed direct rule on Kashmir (News, 16 August 2019), and nearly two million people in Assam were left off a new National Register of Citizens (News, 6 September 2019).

Tens of thousands of people have protested against the Act over the past month. A Supreme Court lawyer in India, Tariq Adeeb, told CSW that it was “the beginning of the dark ages in modern India. The first step in the direction to make the largest secular democratic republic into a Hindu Rashtra. But we will fight this and I am confident we will win. This may take time, but ultimately the suppressor and divider in chief will lose. Nobody can take the soul of India, which is its diversity.”

An Indian human-rights activist, Shabnam Hashmi, warned: “Opening up citizenship based on religious ground is nefarious politics, which will open the flood gates for the mutilation of the Indian Constitution. . . combined with the National Register of Citizens, it will be used like a lethal weapon against religious minorities, Dalits, the tribal community, women and a whole range of economic, political and social marginalised communities.”

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