India citizenship law sparks protests, fears of Islamophobia

India citizenship law sparks protests, fears of IslamophobiaIndia citizenship law sparks protests, fears of Islamophobia
via Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left), NDTV (right)
Ryan General
29 days ago
A controversial law in India which fast-tracks citizenship for religious minorities from several neighboring countries but excludes Muslims has reignited criticism and protests across the country. 
Key points:
  • The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed in 2019 but was paused due to widespread protests and violence.
  • Under the law, immigrants who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India before Dec. 31, 2014, can gain citizenship faster.
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government says the law protects persecuted minorities from Muslim-majority nations, while critics say it discriminates by making religion a factor in citizenship.
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs officially announced the rules for the law on March 11, following Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s commitment to implement them before the 2024 national elections in May, reported the Associated Press.
  • Protests erupted after the announcement, especially in the states of Assam and Tamil Nadu.
The details:
  • The CAA amends India’s existing citizenship law, allowing the specified religious minorities to gain citizenship after six years of residence, reduced from a previous requirement of eleven years. The government argues this is a humanitarian move to help those fleeing religious persecution in neighboring countries.
  • Critics say the exclusion of Muslims is blatantly discriminatory, especially since some Muslim minorities (like Ahmadis or Rohingyas) face persecution in neighboring countries. The implementation announcement is seen as aligning with the BJP’s Hindu nationalist agenda and fueling accusations of using the law to polarize the electorate ahead of elections.
  • Concerns persist that the CAA, combined with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), could be used to strip many Indian Muslims of their citizenship status. The NRC is a separate government initiative to identify and weed out undocumented immigrants and has only been implemented in the northeastern state of Assam. However, Modi’s party has promised to roll out a citizenship verification program nationwide. This raises fears of a nationwide witch hunt targeting Muslims, who could be deemed ineligible for citizenship under the NRC and then denied the CAA’s protections.
  • Student groups, political parties and chief ministers of several states have since participated in protests in Assam (where migration from Bangladesh is a major concern), Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In the state-wide strikes, protesters held candlelight vigils, burned copies of the law and marched the streets with placards condemning the new law.
International criticism:
  • Expressing concern over the law’s implementation, the U.S. State Department cited potential violations of religious freedom and democratic principles. Other international bodies, including the United Nations and Amnesty International, have also condemned the CAA, urging India to uphold its commitment to secularism and human rights.
  • India has rejected this criticism, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal calling the issue an “internal matter” and stating, “The CAA is about giving citizenship, not about taking away citizenship. It addresses the issue of statelessness, provides human dignity and supports human rights.”
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