Why protests are erupting in India over a new citizenship law

Protests over a new citizenship law based on religion have spread across India, causing division, conflict and chaos across the country, but what’s the new law about, and why is it causing controversy?

India’s Parliament has recently passed a citizenship amendment bill, which will make significant changes to the country’s Citizenship Act of 1955, triggering protests across the country.

Over the past week, police have clashed with protesters across several Indian cities, with the most recent clashes wreaking havoc in the country’s capital, New Delhi.

Thousands of troops have been deployed in the capital and a curfew has been implemented in efforts to quell the mass protests.


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Students from across the country argue the law goes against the fundamental ethos of the Indian constitution.

Despite measures, hundreds of activists gathered outside the New Delhi police headquarters protesting alleged police brutality against students at the Jamia Millia Islamia university.

Police used tear gas to detain protesters, who they claim have torched buses and blocked roads.

Students protested against the law, claiming it goes against the fundamental ethos of the Indian constitution.

The most violent protests to date have been in the north-eastern state of Assam, which shares a border with Bangladesh, where mobs torched buildings and train stations over fears the new law would help thousands of immigrants from Bangladesh become lawful citizens.

Violent clashes have seen at least two people killed, with hundreds more injured.

Protestor walks past a truck on fire in India.


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Protests have raged across northern and eastern India since the law was passed.

What is the Citizenship Amendment Bill?

The controversial new federal law entitles non-Muslim migrants from three Muslim-majority countries to citizenship, if they have faced religious persecution.

It makes it easier for non-Muslim minorities to receive citizenship, amending the law that previously prohibited illegal immigrants from becoming Indian citizens.

Under the law, religious minorities such as Hindus and Christians in neighbouring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, who have settled in India prior to 2015, will have the opportunity to become Indian citizens on grounds they have faced persecution in those countries.

It also allows them to file for citizenship after six years of residency, down from a residency requirement of 11 out of the last 14 years in the original law.

Critics argue the law is part of the Government’s agenda to marginalise Muslims, and that it violates secular principles of the Indian constitution.

It has been called divisive and dozens of notable Indian personalities have asked the Government to withdraw it.

It raises concerns that the Government is trying to push a Hindu-first identity for India, while ignoring Muslims — the biggest minority group in India.

The Indian Express said the law, which requires presidential assent, unfairly targets India’s 170 million Muslims.

Why are people angry?

Protesters said they fear the measure will open the region to a flood of foreigners, while others worry the law undermines India’s secular constitution by not offering protection to Muslims.

“The country is burning, the Government has made a mockery of the constitution,” said general secretary of the Communist Party of India, Doraisamy Raja.

In north-eastern states bordering Bangladesh, people have expressed upset over the impact that a large influx of migrants has already had on society, and the pressure they’ve placed on their jobs and food supplies.

A woman on the floor in tears after she was injured during a protest against a new citizenship law


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Several protesters were injured during violent clashes with police.

Many students beleive the new law seeks to define India on religious lines, which goes against the foundations of what India was built on.

Anger with the Government has also been fuelled by allegations of police brutality at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi, after officers were accused of entering the campus and firing tear gas to break up protests — with at least 100 people injured.

According to local media, students have alleged that police forced their way inside hostels near the university and beat up women who were not involved in the protests.

A female student, who was visibly distressed, told local media she didn’t feel safe in her country anymore.

“I do not feel safe in this entire country. I do not know where I will go and be lynched by the police itself,” she said.

Why has the Prime Minister introduced the bill?

The Government first introduced the bill during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first term, but Parliament failed to pass the bill at the time.

The bill has now been reintroduced and passed in Parliament.

Many critics of the law have blamed Mr Modi and his Government, claiming he is pushing a partisan agenda in conflict with India’s founding as a secular republic.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has denied any religious bias, and said it is opposed to the appeasement of one community.

Mr Modi has said the new law is meant to help minority groups facing persecution in the three nearby Muslim countries.

He has said the law has been passed by Parliament and there is no going back on it.

At a recent rally he told media the decision was “1,000 percent correct.”

What’s next for the country?

Police douse fires with water in the middle of the street as they try to remove road blocks in India.


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More troops have been deployed to Assam to restore peace.

Protests have been held in Mumbai’s Indian Institute of Technology and Tata Institute of Social Sciences and more have been planned at Bombay University and universities across the country.

Some Bollywood celebrities like actress Konkona Sen Sharma, and directors Mahesh Bhatt and Anubhav Sinha, also criticised the police action on Twitter, and called on others to speak up.

“We are with the students! Shame on you @DelhiPolice,” Sen Sharma tweeted.

Earlier this week the United Nations Human Rights office voiced concern that the new law was fundamentally discriminatory in nature.

There are fears the country could face division, fearing Mr Modi would push an agenda that leaves millions of Muslims behind.

Many within India have said they want the law revoked, while others argue it could spark religious division across the country.

 
Source: Raxan