Anger against India’s new citizenship law is growing and spreading across the country.

Thousands of people are protesting the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB). The CAB, which is now the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), proposes to accord citizenship to undocumented migrants who are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jains, Zoroastrians, and Christians from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, which are majority Muslim states.

This leaves out Muslims, Atheists and other creeds. The government clarified that the mentioned countries are Islamic Republics, hence they cannot be treated as persecuted minorities.

Critics say that the Bill violates Article 14 of the Constitution – the right to equality. Given India’s secular values – one of the great points of pride of the world’s largest democracies – citizenship cannot be given based on religion.

The UN says that India’s new Citizenship Amendment Act is “fundamentally discriminatory in nature”.

National Registry of Citizens (NRC)

Amit Shah, India’s home minister, also announced that the government will soon bring the National Register of Citizenship (NRC) across India. This means that every citizen of India will have to prove that they are actual citizens and not illegal immigrants by using documentary evidence.

With the CAB approved, those who are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jains, Zoroastrians, and Christians, whether undocumented Indian or migrant, will be neutralised.

However, the Muslims in India who do not have documents of their pre-existence will not be considered Indians and will be removed or relocated to camps. 

Over 14% of India’s population of 1.4 billion is Muslim. In poor regions, documentation does not come easy as children are often born at home because families cannot afford hospital costs.

What about minority Muslims?

The CAB, combined with the NRC, risks family separation, overcrowding, statelessness and deportation. Though Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are majority Muslim countries, they are also majority Sunni. In many regions of these countries, minority Muslim sects like Shias and Ahmadis face religious prosecution. Deportation of these minorities might put their lives in danger.

The voice of Assam

Map of India with Assam coloured red.

Assam is a state in north-eastern India which borders Bangladesh to the south. The wave of protests that have taken the country by storm started here after the Bill was passed. However, they have little to do with concerns about the exclusionary nature of the bill and the threat to secularism.

These protests revolve around the indigenous folks who fear to be the demographic and cultural minority in their state since Assam holds majority of the Bangladeshi refugees.

At present, the NRC is regulated only in Assam. The citizens’ register identifies the foreign nationals in the state. Millions, both undocumented Indians and migrants from Bangladesh, have been put into internment camps since because they were unable to prove their origin to India.

As proposed, if a nationwide NRC comes in place, the affected will be detained to detention centres, just like the ones in Assam.

Public outcry

According to Al Jazeera, nine people have been killed in the protests that are being held on campuses across the country against the new law and against police brutality. A video of female students protecting a fellow male student who was being beaten by police has gone viral.

More than 100 students were injured when police stormed two universities. Large public marches against the law have been held in several Indian states.

The Indian Prime Minister tweeted that “No Indian has to worry regarding this Act. This Act is only for those who have faced years of prosecution outside and have no other place to go except India.”

In order to suppress and control the protests, the government enlisted a curfew and an internet ban.

It’s not the first time

In August, Modi’s government shut down the internet and phone lines and flooded Indian-administered Kashmir with security forces after it withdrew the autonomy of Indian’s only Muslims majority region.

What now?

Rights groups and Muslim political parties are challenging the law in the Supreme Court.

Zahra Khozema