EDITORIAL: New citizenship law threatens Indian democracy

by | Jan 24, 2020 | Editorial

ETC Staff

An Indian judge recently reminded Delhi police of the constitutional right of every citizen of that country to protest them as they opposed the bail of an activist. The ruling also served as notice that India, the most populated democracy, is at a crossroads.

The activist was arrested for joining a students’ protest he was denied permission to join. A vicious circle that intends on quashing dissent by students, scholars and activists in India and across the world protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. The law claims to protect the secular fabric of India but it appears designed to grant citizenship based on either religion or selective heritage.

The ruling government is known for its violent toll on Hindu nationalism and creating riots with its populist policies. Indian Muslims remember the dark days of the 2002 Gujarat riots spurred on by Narendra Modi’s supporters.

Modi now leads the government, which introduced the bill that hides India’s weakening economy while expressing racist ideologies.

Amending the Citizenship Act of 1955, India provides citizenship to “any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014,” said the Gazette of India.

The government says the bill provides citizenship to those who were “forced or compelled to seek shelter in India due to persecution on the ground of religion” and were living in the country without documentation.

The new law will benefit 25,447 Hindus, 5,807 Sikhs, 55 Christians, two Buddhists and two Parsis, the Intelligence Bureau of India said.

But the bill is also remarkable by who it does not grant citizenship to, including Tamil Hindu refugees from Sri Lanka, Myanmar’s Rohingyan Hindu and Muslim refugees, Buddhist refugees from Bhutan, and immigrants from Tibet and Nepal.

The harmful bill brings uncertainty when linked with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR).

The NRC will “verify the citizenship status of every usual resident” from the data collected of all residents of India by the NPR.

The register requires 1.3 billion citizens to prove the citizenship of their family’s origin in the country.

While non-Muslims left out of the final citizenship register may be able to apply for citizenship under CAA, Muslims will be left with no option.

Detention centres to house the excluded immigrants are being prepared across the country. Whether illegal migrants will live in centres or be deported is unanswered.

Yet, the government maintains it does not violate the right to equality as a fundamental right under Article 14 of the Indian constitution.

When detention camps for religious and ethnic minorities are being created, it is no wonder the Prime Minister is being called a fascist.

The NRC was implemented in the state of Assam, in northeast India, between 2013 and 2014 and the state has since faced unrest. Its planned implementation in the rest of the country will come with high social and economic costs.

The government spent US$16 billion in Assam implementing NRC over a 10-year period.

The government promises NRC to be limited to Assam without troubling the rest of India. However, the NRC is masked under the NPR and will highlight “doubtful citizens” who fail to verify their information.

The CAA and NRC are separate and not directly linked. However, the government’s comment on CAA being followed by the NRC paved the way for democratic unrest.

In a country with a GDP growth at 4.5 per cent, the government is expected to spend approximately US$500 billion on the implementation of CAA and NPR.

With poverty and unemployment at its lowest, the government is blind to the realities of going forward, and is desperately attempting to silence the voices of protestors.

The police were ordered to control the situation in the epi-centres of the protest including Jamia Milia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. Students were beaten, tear-gassed, detained and arrested. The unrest left students and teachers severely injured.

The question is why isn’t a democracy opening its doors to all minorities who have been persecuted because of religion, ethnicity or political unrest?

India was not formed on the basis of religion. The citizenship bills are draconian and are the real threat to the country’s secular fabric. They should be rewritten, if not repealed, and not base citizenship on religion or ethnicity