India’s president signs citizenship bill into law. Police imposed curfew in Guwahati following yesterday’s protests. For Catholic activist, the law “brings terror to the national level”. Muslim leader says, “We will continue to protest even with civil disobedience.”
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Indian President Ram Nath Kovind signed the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) into law late yesterday. The piece of legislation is one of the most divisive laws in Indian history.
Amid yesterday’s protests, two young men in their 20s died as police cracked down on thousands of protesters in Guwahati (Assam), emulated by millions across the country. The two are CAB’s first deaths. The law is designed to keep out Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
Today, streets in Assam and Tripura are quiet after the authorities imposed a curfew. Yesterday during clashes, agents fired at protesters. The latter carried out sit-ins, marched, and set fire to effigies of Hindu nationalist politicians from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s.
Assam is one of the Indian states to react negatively to the new legislation. The law allows people from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to apply for Indian citizenship if they are persecuted at home, as long as they are not Muslim.
Muslims in Indian border states already say they are victims of discrimination after the National Register of Citizens (NRC) was upgraded recently, excluding two million people who now no longer have the right to reside in India.
Speaking to AsiaNews, John Dayal, general secretary of the All India Christian Council and president of the All India Catholic Union, said that "Modi's government has bypassed the morality of the Constitution in its zeal to increase their political reach and power, and to implement the agenda of the (Hindu nationalist) Sangh Parivar.”
In Assam, the registry “has put almost two million people in limbo. Hundreds of people have committed suicide because their papers are incomplete. Thousands are in jail because they are deemed ‘foreign suspects’. Many have lost their rights at home.”
The new legislation is fundamentally contradictory for Dayal. It “seeks to extend exclusion in Assam to the whole country. CAB brings terror to the national level.”
Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah said that Hindus, Sikhs and Christians are welcome. The exclusion of Muslims “has been psychological blow to India’s Muslim population, the third largest in the world”.
Dayal noted in fact, that “the government has not said that it would open its borders to Ahmadis, Shias and indigenous groups who suffer the dictatorship of the majority and the persecution of the state in our neighbouring countries."
Amid yesterday’s protests, the Indian Union Muslim League presented a petition to repeal the law. For Nadeem Khan, a leading Muslim member of United Against Hate (UAH) advocacy group, "The law is illegal” and “We shall challenge it before the Supreme Court.”
Khan explained that "We have known for some time that the government was pursuing a policy of sectarian hatred. The new law, in addition to being against the spirit of the Constitution, represents an attempt to polarise communities even more.”
Further, “In the last elections, the government gained power via a strategy of dividing society and it is now putting it into practice.”
Nevertheless, he is grateful to the people who have “sided with us. We have received solidarity from many communities.” He pledges that “We will continue to protest even with civil disobedience".
Several public officials have resigned in protest to show their opposition to the law that "denies religious pluralism". Abdur Rahman, a Mumbai policeman, was one of the first to do so. In his view, this “is not only a struggle for Muslims, but for all communities that recognise themselves in the principle of equality.” (A.C.F.)