India: Fury over anti-Muslim discrimination
A new Indian law that equates “citizenship with religion” and appears to discriminate against Muslims has sparked such violent protests that it may have to be withdrawn, said The Times of India in an editorial. The unrest began earlier this month in the northeastern state of Assam—where more than a third of the population is Muslim—and quickly spread across the nation. In New Delhi, police this week blasted protesting Muslim students with tear gas and rubber bullets and beat them with wooden sticks. Clearly, the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi “miscalculated the intensity of the blowback” that the law would engender. The government insists the Citizenship Amendment Act is not discriminatory but in fact protects against “religious persecution,” said Prabhash Dutta in India Today. The law extends citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, and Christian migrants from three neighboring countries—Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan—that have Islam as a state religion. Non-Muslims are presumed to be discriminated against there, so India will continue to welcome them here. But Muslim migrants are not considered to have fled persecution and so aren’t entitled to amnesty. The act is already being challenged in court because some claim it violates the Constitution.
“The mask is off and the claws have been bared,” said P. Chidambaram in the Financial Express. Modi’s new law is just the latest step in a plot to further marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims—about 15 percent of the country’s population. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has always sought Hindu supremacy and recently promised to create a National Register of Citizens that will require all Indians to prove that they or their ancestors were living in India before 1971. Yet when Assam ran a pilot program last year, it found that many Indians lacked the necessary official documents. A shocking 4 million people—13 percent of the state’s population—were left off the citizenship rolls, many of them Bengali Hindu migrants from neighboring Bangladesh. So Modi’s party came up with the Citizenship Amendment Act to grant amnesty to those Hindus. Muslims were left out because denying citizenship to India’s Muslims is the registry’s express purpose. Already, the government is building camps where it intends to house Muslims ahead of mass deportations.
This is simply democracy in action, said Vivek Dehejia in Mint. The BJP campaigned on the Citizenship Amendment Act, and its “thundering re-election victory” this spring can only be interpreted as an endorsement of the party’s agenda. And don’t think that the protests in Assam are some sort of principled defense of secularism. This is largely a display of “regional chauvinism.” Neither Muslims nor Hindus in Assam “welcome the legitimization of Hindu migrants from Bangladesh,” because they fear the migrants will take their jobs and change their community, and they may be right. India is still a democracy. Those who want to change the citizenship law “need to convince Indian voters.” ■