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Citizenship Amendment Bill: Protests Spread Across India Over New Law Which Excludes Muslims

citizenship bill

Protests over a controversial new law on migrants are raging across several Indian cities, prompting police to clash with demonstrators

Deadly protests have erupted across India over a controversial citizenship amendment bill that critics fear could further marginalize the country’s minority Muslim community.

Protests broke out at universities across the country, including in Hyderabad, Varanasi, and the capital New Delhi, according to Indian media, while videos showed police firing tear gas at protesters at Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh. Ongoing protests in Assam, in India’s northeast, turned violent, with at least five people killed, police said.

Protests in Delhi over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill

In Delhi, students began demonstrating at the prestigious Jamia Milia Islamia university early Sunday, with around 2,000 people taking part in the protest’s peak. More than 100 students have been injured after baton-wielding police charged at them and fired tear gas at two federally-run universities where students were holding anti-citizenship law protests.

india riots

Police said the protest turned violent when some students refused to disperse and set fire to public buses. Police then used tear gas, said senior Delhi police official Chinmoy Biswal. Several students were detained at two police stations, but have since been released.

Anger has been growing nationally over the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which was signed into law last week. The bill promises to fast-track citizenship for religious minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who arrived before 2015.

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The exclusion of Muslims — which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says is because they are not minorities in India’s neighboring countries — has raised concerns about the bill’s constitutionality and the growing anti-Muslim rhetoric in India.

Many in Assam and Tripura, states in India’s northeast, also fear that it could see large numbers of Hindus migrating to the region, outnumbering the region’s 200 distinct indigenous groups and changing its religious and ethnic makeup.

There are around 16 million Hindus in Bangladesh alone, and naturalizing large numbers of immigrants could also greatly impact employment, government subsidies and education.

The protest at Jamia Milia Islamia was not organized by the university or its students, according to its vice-chancellor Najma Akhtar. “From the areas around the university, a call had gone out for an organized protest,” she said.

‘A dark day’

Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have described the citizenship bill as a means of protecting vulnerable groups from persecution, but critics say the true target is India’s minority Muslim population and that it risks undermining the country’s secular constitution.

“Today marks a dark day in the constitutional history of India,” Sonia Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress Party, said in a statement. “The passage of the citizenship amendment bill marks the victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces over India’s pluralism.”

Another leading Congress figure, Rahul Gandhi, said last week the law was an attempt to “ethnically cleanse the Northeast. It is a criminal attack on the Northeast, their way of life and the idea of India.”

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Faisal Rahat

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