12/09/2019, 00.00
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More than 770 intellectuals oppose citizenship bill that excludes Muslims

Today the lower house passed the bill. Its goal is to give refuge to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Sikhs and Parsees persecuted in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. For critics, “it is “deeply troubling that the Bill uses religion as a legal criterion for determining Indian citizenship.”

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Some 774 scientists and scholars have signed a joint statement slamming the decision by India’s Union government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to push a citizenship bill that explicitly excludes Muslims.

For the bill’s defenders, the proposed legislation is designed to counter illegal immigration. For its critics, the bill discriminates people on the basis of religion and violates the Constitution.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was adopted this morning in the Lok Sabha (lower house) in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government holds an absolute majority. Before becoming law, the proposed law will go tomorrow before the Rajya Sabha (upper house) where the ruling party can co-opt a number of smaller parties.

The new legislation, which amends a 1955 law, would grant citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Sikhs and Parsees facing persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Citizenship or naturalisation would be granted to members of the aforementioned groups if they can prove that they were residents of India for at least six years rather than 11 as required by the old law.

The group of scientists and scholars opposed to the bill includes the directors of three world-class research centres: Sandip Trivedi of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, Rajesh Gopakumar of the International Centre for Theoretical Sciences in Bangalore, and Atish Dabholkar of the Centro internazionale di fisica teorica in Trieste (Italy).

Critics welcome the law to the extent that it would provide refuge for members of minorities persecuted in neighbouring countries; however, for them it is “deeply troubling that the Bill uses religion as a legal criterion for determining Indian citizenship.”

They note that “Article 14 of the Indian Constitution prohibits the state from denying ‘to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.’”

“While it is the job of legal experts to determine whether this draft Bill violates the letter of the constitution, it seems certain to us that it violates its spirit.

“We fear, in particular, that the careful exclusion of Muslims from the ambit of the Bill will greatly strain the pluralistic fabric of the country.

“The idea of India that emerged from the independence movement, and as enshrined in our constitution, is that of a country that aspires to treat people of all faiths equally.”

As soon as it was proposed, the bill sparked protests in several Indian states, particularly Assam, where two million people were recently excluded from the National Register of Citizens. To obtain Indian citizenship, they had to prove that they were residents of India after 24 March 1971 when Bangladesh declared independence.

For the BJP-led Assam government, the goal was to counter illegal immigration. For the excluded, mostly Muslims, the aim is to reduce the size of the Muslim population to avoid a crisis like that of the Rohingya.

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