Protests over Indian nationality Bill

Protests over Indian nationality Bill

The proposed nationality bill has provoked protests in India's northeastern states
The proposed nationality bill has provoked protests in India's northeastern states (Photo: AFP/David TALUKDAR)

NEW DELHI: India's parliament saw raucous scenes on Monday (Dec 9) and protests raged in the north-east of the country as MPs debated legislation that stands to give citizenship to religious minorities from neighbouring countries, but not Muslims.

To Muslim organisations, rights groups and others, the Bill forms part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's agenda - which he denies - of marginalising India's 200 million-strong Islamic minority.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill provides that Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians fleeing persecution in Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan can be granted citizenship.

Demonstrators protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Ahmedabad
Demonstrators display placards and shout slogans during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, a bill that seeks to give citizenship to religious minorities persecuted in neighbouring Muslim countries, in Ahmedabad, India, Dec 9, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Amit Dave)
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A cyclist passes burning tyres set ablaze by protesters during the strike called by AACSU to protes
A cyclist passes burning tyres set ablaze by protesters during the strike called by AACSU to protest against the bill in Guwahati. (Photo: Reuters)

Modi's government had tried to bring in the contentious legislation during its first term but the Bill could not pass the upper house where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies lacked a majority.

READ: India cabinet clears contentious nationality Bill

Shashi Tharoor, a member of the opposition Congress party, told parliament amid angry exchanges that the Bill "infringes upon the principle of equality before law" guaranteed to all persons, including non-citizens.

The Bill seeks to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955 which prohibits illegal migrants from applying for Indian citizenship.

Under Modi, the Islamic-sounding names of several cities have been changed, while some school textbooks have been altered to downplay Muslims' contributions to India.

On Monday, 100 scientists and scholars at institutions in India and abroad published a joint letter expressing their "dismay" at the legislation.

They said that enshrined in India's constitution is the notion of treating all faiths equally.

But Modi's "proposed Bill would mark a radical break with this history and would be inconsistent with the basic structure of the constitution".

The letter said such a careful exclusion of Muslims would "greatly strain" India's pluralism.

AGAINST INFILTRATORS

The government has defended the Bill, saying it was only aimed at flushing out infiltrators, and that Muslims did not face persecution in the three neighbouring countries.

A demonstrator shouts slogans during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, in Kolkata
A demonstrator shouts slogans during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, a bill that seeks to give citizenship to religious minorities persecuted in neighbouring Muslim countries, in Kolkata, India, Dec 9, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri)
protest against the government's Citizenship Amendment Bill
Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT) hold placards as they protest against the government's Citizenship Amendment Bill, in Tripura on Dec 9, 2019. (Photo: AFP/STR)

"This Bill is not even 0.001 per cent against minorities. It is against infiltrators," Home Minister Amit Shah said in parliament's lower house.

He recently proposed a "national register of citizens" that would see "each and every infiltrator identified and expelled" from India by 2024.

The citizenship Bill has led to protests in India's northeastern states where residents are unhappy about an influx of Hindus from neighbouring Bangladesh.

In Guwahati in Assam state protesters set fire to tyres, while tribal groups staged protests in Tripura.

On Monday, prominent political groups opposing the Bill called for a complete shutdown across all the states in the northeast on Tuesday.

Source: AFP/nr

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