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India Citizenship Bill Passes Into Law

by Newsweek Pakistan

Tolga Akmen—AFP

Protests erupt over passage of controversial legislation that allows citizenship to non-Muslims from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh

The Upper House of India’s Parliament on Thursday approved the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, which allows Delhi to grant citizenship to any non-Muslim who illegally migrated to India before 2015 from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh.

The legislation was passed 125-105 by the Rajya Sabha, after the Lok Sabha voted in favor of it on Tuesday. It will now be sent to the president for formal approval into law, though this is perceived as a mere formality at this stage. “A landmark day for India and our nation’s ethos of compassion and brotherhood!” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted after the bill was passed. “This Bill will alleviate the suffering of many who faced persecution for years.”

The passage of the contentious bill resulted in violent protests, with the bulk of the unrest occurring in northeastern states such as Assam and Tripura, where locals have long criticized the influx of migrants from neighboring states. To stem the violence, the government deployed hundreds of troops, with police firing tear gas to disperse rallies. The government also suspended mobile internet services and banned any gatherings of more than four people for 24 hours.

Derek O’Brien, an opposition lawmaker in the upper house, on Wednesday said the legislation bore an “eerie similarity” to Nazi laws against Jews in 1930s Germany, according to news agency AFP. “In 1935 there were citizenship laws to protect people with German blood … today we have a faulty bill that wants to define who true Indian citizens are,” he said.

Opponents of the legislation have vowed to challenge it in the country’s Supreme Court, claiming it violates the secularism enshrined in the constitution. Many detractors also claim the specific wording of the legislation—only allowing citizenship for non-Muslims—is designed to further marginalize India’s Muslim communities. Modi’s government, however, claims Muslims are excluded because they do not face discrimination in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Curiously, the legislation does not make any mention of minorities suffering in other parts of the region, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar or the Tibetans in China.

“The Indian government is creating legal grounds to strip millions of Muslims of the fundamental right of equal access to citizenship,” said Human Rights Watch. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom similarly termed the bill a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction.”

India’s foreign ministry has retorted by claiming these comments are “neither accurate nor warranted” and “guided by their prejudices and biases.”

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