Students at Jamia Millia Islamia University stage a protest against the government's Citizenship Amendment Bill in New Delhi on Friday. Photo: AFP/STR

Violent protests broke out across India after the Narendra Modi government pushed through amendments to India’s citizenship laws that now use religion as a criteria to exclude Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. So far, four people have been killed and scores injured as protests continue to grow.

As fury over the new citizenship law spreads, New Delhi is battling a major international fall out over the move. A three-day visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been called off while two Bangladesh cabinet ministers cancelled their pre-scheduled trips to India. Bangladesh has called the new law regressive and warned that this will erode India’s image as a secular nation.

Meanwhile, much to New Delhi’s embarrassment, the UK, Canada, France and Israel have issued travel advisories asking their citizens to defer any travel to India. Separately, the US State Department issued a statement urging the Modi government to protect the rights of India’s religious minorities.

Ironically, even Amit Shah, the union home minister, had to call off a two-day visit to India’s northeast as violent protests continued to intensify. The army has been called out in parts of Assam to quell the violence, while federal policemen were moved from Kashmir to contain the spreading protests in the northeastern states of India. In New Delhi, students from the prestigious Jamia Milia University blocked roads and launched a major agitation that was suppressed after the police fired tear gas shells and carried out a baton charge on the protesters.

Political observers are now beginning to liken amendments to India’s citizenship law to the Nuremberg race laws that were passed by the Nazi party in 1935. Many legal experts say that the new law violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution that guarantees equality to all and prohibits discrimination in any form.

An unprecedented crisis

The citizenship amendment bill (CAB) was passed by Parliament this week allows minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to seek Indian citizenship. While naming the religious identities that are eligible to apply for citizenship, it conspicuously excludes Muslims.

However, many political observers see the BJP’s push to change the citizenship laws as another attempt to promote majoritarian values and implement its s Hindutva agenda.

Political observers are also linking the new amended laws to the recently concluded exercise to identify illegal immigrants in the north-eastern state of Assam. The exercise, known as the National Register for Citizens (NRC), identified 1.9 million in the state as aliens. However, nearly 1.1 million of those identified as “illegal” are Hindus. Many see the new amendments to the citizenship law as an attempt by the Modi government to make Hindus citizens while deporting Muslims to Bangladesh.

Union Home Minister Shah has stated in several media interviews that he plans to take the NRC process across India. With Muslims likely to be the key target of the NRC survey, many fear that the new amendments will end up targeting them and stripping away their citizenship.

Four states have already issued statements that they will not implement the new amendments to the citizenship law. While granting citizenship is exclusively within the powers of the federal government, the unprecedented opposition by the states is seen as a major push back against the controversial law.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Human Rights Council has expressed concern over the new law.  “We are concerned that the new citizenship amendment act is fundamentally discriminatory in nature. [The] goal of protecting persecuted groups is welcomed, but [the] new law does not extend protection to Muslims, including minority sects,” the  international body said in a statement.

The ruling BJP’s critics allege that the controversial amendments to the citizenship laws are also an attempt to divert attention from a declining economy. The latest data shows that the GDP has shrunk alarmingly, while industrial production continues to shrink. Former central bank governor Raghuram Rajan has called the present economic crisis a “growth recession” and accused the BJP of being in denial.

Also read: India govt pushes religion-based citizenship law

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