Anger as new Indian citizenship bill excludes Muslims

Critics say controversial legislation aims to marginalise Muslims

(Image credit: Biju Boro/AFP via Getty Images)

India’s lower house has passed a highly controversial law that will grant citizenship to religious minorities from three neighbouring countries, but not Muslims.

The citizenship amendment bill means that Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians fleeing persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan can be granted citizenship.

However, the bill has proven highly controversial, with critics declaring that it is part of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) efforts to marginalise Muslims.

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Describing himself as “delighted” by the bill’s passage, Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, tweeted: “This bill is in line with India’s centuries-old ethos of assimilation and belief in humanitarian values.”

But historian Mukul Kesavan told the BBC that while the bill is “couched in the language of refuge and seemingly directed at foreigners... its main purpose is the delegitimisation of Muslim’s citizenship”.

Gautam Bhatia, a lawyer based in Delhi, told the broadcaster that by dividing would-be migrants into Muslims and non-Muslims, the bill “explicitly and blatantly, seeks to enshrine religious discrimination into law, contrary to our long-standing, secular constitutional ethos”.

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With opposition intensifying, some 100 scientists and scholars at institutions across India and abroad published a joint letter expressing their “dismay” at the legislation and describing the bill as unconstitutional. The careful exclusion of Muslims would “greatly strain” India’s pluralism, the letter added.

There have already been protests in India’s north-eastern states, where residents are angry at the prospect of an influx of Hindus from neighbouring Bangladesh. In some demonstrations protesters set fire to tyres, while tribal groups staged protests in Tripura.

However, senior BJP leader Ram Madhav was unmoved by the opposition, insisting that “no country in the world accepts illegal migration”.

“For all others about whom the bleeding hearts’ are complaining, Indian citizenship laws are there. Naturalised citizenship is an option for others who legally claim Indian citizenship. All other illegal [immigrants] will be infiltrators.”

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