Protests in India over religiously exclusive bill

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Protests continue in India over the controversial Citizenment Amendment Bill (CAB) enacted last December. The bill allows for immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan to have Indian citizenship—if they are of certain religions. The passing of this bill makes it the first time religion is being used as a criterion for citizenship in India.

According to Livemint, “This amendment is of the Citizenship Act, 1955 which requires the applicant to have resided in India for 11 of the previous 14 years. The amendment relaxes this requirement from 11 years to six years, for Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians from the three nations.” While Muslims are not the only religion excluded from this bill, the countries affected are primarily Muslim majority. The intention, according to India’s government, is a humanitarian one, aimed at providing an easy escape from religious persecution; this assumes that non-Muslims would not be religiously persecuted in the three Muslim majority, ignoring the attacks many Muslim sects receive in Pakistan and other countries.

Many accused India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “hinduising” India’s secular character. Al Jazeera reports:

Critics have questioned the reasons behind the government’s decision to limit the scope of this bill to migrants from Muslim-majority neighbours of India. Some have argued that the fact that the proposal excludes thousands of undocumented immigrants from Sri Lanka, Nepal and most importantly Myanmar implies that the Indian government is not at all concerned about the persecution of minorities if they are not living in Muslim-majority countries.

The questioning of the negative implication of the bill has been fueled due to India’s ongoing lockdown of the union territory Jammu and Kashmir, which is the only Muslim-dominant state in India, after the government stripped it of its autonomy and statehood.

Violent protests surged during President Trump’s visit to India late February as pro- and anti-citizenship bill protestors clashed. There was severe brutality from both sides, but Muslims in Delhi were overwhelmingly targeted by Hindu mobs. The Guardian reports, “Muslims were burned alive in their homes or dragged out into the streets and lynched. Muslim businesses and property were also set alight. In streets where Hindus and Muslims had lived peacefully side by side, bodies lay bloodied alongside discarded and burned-out cars, bikes, shattered glass and smouldering shopfronts. The police have been accused of enabling, encouraging or even joining in with Hindu mobs.” More than 40 people have been killed, and thousands more injured.

Trump’s only comments concerning the deadly controversy were of praise for the prime minister. In a press conference, he stated, “We did talk about religious freedom. And I will say that the Prime Minister was incredible on what he told me. He wants people to have religious freedom, and very strongly.” He then added, “They have really worked hard on religious freedom… And I really believe that’s what he wants. As far as the individual attack, I heard about it but I didn’t discuss that with him. That’s up to India.” Trump had a very warm welcome in India and held a massive rally with Modi.

Needless to say, the citizenship amendment has caused various responses from other countries. The US Commission on International Freedom called for a hearing last week concerning India’s citizenship law’s effects on Muslims in the region. In addition, according to Al Jazeera, “UN Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHRC) Michelle Bachelet informed India that her office has filed an application urging the Supreme Court to make the UN body a third party in a petition filed by a former civil servant against the law.” India defended the bill, but the Indian government has stated this was an internal matter in the country with no need of foreign intervention. Currently, there are still ongoing protests in India and also some sparking in Afghanistan as Muslims fear the new law’s implications.