India to unveil contentious citizenship law amid criticism

India’s government has unveiled plans to enact a contentious citizenship law that has faced criticism for being perceived as anti-Muslim.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, CAA, permits non-Muslim religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan to apply for citizenship in India. Authorities argue that it provides relief to those facing persecution in their home countries. The law was passed in 2019, triggering widespread protests resulting in numerous deaths and arrests. However, the rules for its implementation were not finalized at that time. Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah announced the rules on social media, stating that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has fulfilled a constitutional promise to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians residing in these nations.

India’s home ministry announced that eligible individuals can now apply for Indian citizenship online through a dedicated portal. The ministry clarified that there were misconceptions about the law, and its implementation was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They emphasized that the CAA is aimed at providing relief to those who have faced persecution and have no alternative refuge except India. Implementing the CAA has been a significant campaign promise of Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, ahead of the upcoming general elections.

The amendment to the 64-year-old Indian Citizenship law allows for changes that will enable illegal migrants to potentially become Indian citizens. To qualify, individuals must demonstrate that they migrated to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan by December 31, 2014. However, the Indian government has not specified a date for when the new law will take effect.

Monday’s announcement didn’t catch many off guard, as BJP leaders had hinted for months that the law could be rolled out before the elections. Following the notification, BJP handles trended hashtags like “Jo Kaha So Kiya” (We did what we said) online.

However, protests against the CAA have already begun in some states. In Assam, where the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) led the 2019 protests, a shutdown was called for on Tuesday.

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In Kerala, the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) has organized state-wide protests. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan stated, “This [the law] is to divide the people, incite communal sentiments and undermine the fundamental principles of the Constitution,” further asserting that the law won’t be implemented in his state.

Critics of the CAA argue that it is exclusionary and goes against the secular principles of India’s constitution, which forbid discrimination based on religion. They point out that the law doesn’t extend to those escaping persecution in non-Muslim majority countries, such as Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, or Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar.

 

There’s apprehension that when combined with a proposed national register of citizens, the CAA could be utilized to target the country’s 200 million Muslims.

 

Some Indians, particularly those living near India’s borders, fear that implementing the law might trigger an influx of immigrants.

India unveils contentious citizenship law amid criticism
India unveils contentious citizenship law amid criticism

The opposition is not pleased with Monday’s announcement, alleging that the government is trying to sway the upcoming elections. The elections, expected by May, will see Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking re-election for a third consecutive term.

“After multiple extensions in four years, its [the law’s] implementation two to three days before the election announcement shows that it is being done for political reasons,” said Mamata Banerjee, a leader of the All India Trinamool Congress party, at a press conference.

 

Jairam Ramesh, the communication head of the Indian National Congress, wrote on social media that “the time taken to notify the rules for the CAA is yet another demonstration of the Prime Minister’s blatant lies”. Asaduddin Owaisi, the leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party, questioned the timing of the move.

 

“CAA is meant to only target Muslims, it serves no other purpose,” he wrote on X,formerly Twitter.

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