India moves to implement contentious ‘anti-Muslim’ citizenship law

India moves to implement contentious ‘anti-Muslim’ citizenship law

Key Points
  • The law grants a pathway to Indian citizenship to refugees but excludes those adhering to the Muslim faith.
  • It was not implemented after its 2019 enactment as protests and sectarian violence broke out.
  • At least 40 people were killed in protests between supporters and opponents of the amendment.

India has moved to implement a

that has been criticised as discriminating against Muslims.

It comes weeks before Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a rare third term for his Hindu nationalist government.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) grants Indian nationality to Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who fled to Hindu-majority India due to religious persecution from Muslim-majority Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before 31 December 2014.

Modi’s government passed the law in December 2019 but it was not implemented.

After the law was passed, protests and sectarian violence broke out in New Delhi and elsewhere, with scores killed and hundreds injured during days of clashes.

Yellow tape with red blue and white log markings reads, 'DO NOT CROSS LINE,' and 'DELHI POLICE'. Behind the tape are men in camoflage uniforms with helmets and shields. They stand on rubble of what appears to be destroyed and burned out buildings.

Indian paramilitary soldiers stand in a vandalised area in north-eastern Delhi, after clashes broke out in New Delhi, India, 28 February 2020. Source: EPA / STR

Rights groups and Muslim groups say the law, combined with a proposed national register of citizens, could discriminate against India’s 200 million Muslims – the world’s third-largest Muslim population.

Some fear the government might remove the citizenship of Muslims without documents in some border states.

“The Modi government announces implementation of Citizenship Amendment Act,” a spokesperson for the prime minister’s office said in a text message.

“It was an integral part of BJP’s 2019 manifesto. This will pave [the] way for the persecuted to find citizenship in India,” he said, referring to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) 2019 election manifesto.

Two hands held up with henna writing on them. The two people with their hands up are wearing face coverings and are amongst a larger crowd of people.

Indian women and children display slogans written with henna on their palms during a protest against a new citizenship law in Bangalore, India, 1 March 2020. Source: AP / Aijaz Rahi

A Home (interior) Ministry statement said the law would remove legal barriers to citizenship for refugees, giving a “dignified life” to those who have suffered for decades.

“Many misconceptions have been spread” about the law and its implementation was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the statement said.

“This act is only for those who have suffered persecution for years and have no other shelter in the world except India,” it said.

Law ‘needed to help minorities’

The government denies it is anti-Muslim and says the law is needed to help minorities facing persecution in Muslim-majority nations.

It says the law is meant to grant citizenship, not take it away from anyone, and has called the earlier protests politically motivated.

Modi swept to power in 2014 and has consolidated his hold since with a focus on growth, welfare economics, boosting infrastructure and aggressive Hindu nationalism.

Opinion polls suggest he will comfortably win a majority in a general election that must be held by May.

The main opposition Congress party said Monday’s announcement was motivated by the approaching election.

“After seeking nine extensions for the notification of the rules, the timing right before the elections is evidently designed to polarise the elections, especially in West Bengal and Assam,” Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh said on X.

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