Last week Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India pushed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) through parliament and consequently ignited nationwide protests that have often turned violent, leaving at least 20 dead according to the BBC. The CAA provides for granting of Indian citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, and Christians from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, while not being extended to Rohingya Muslims persecuted in Myanmar; Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan; Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks in Afghanistan; Tamils in Sri Lanka; and atheists in Bangladesh. This move explicitly restricts the granting of citizenship to certain religious communities, fundamentally challenging the secular claims of the Indian constitution, specifically Article 14, which states that “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”
There are two contrasting rationales behind the protests, in the North-eastern state of Assam, protesters in the city of Guwahati hit the streets fearing that the new law will encourage Hindus from Bangladesh to settle in the region, burden resources as well as threaten their language, culture, and tradition. The second concern focuses on what seems to be Prime Minister Modi’s agenda to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims, provoking widespread fears among Indian Muslims of being targeted and harassed by the Hindu nationalist government. In response, some regions in India have imposed an emergency law that prohibits large gatherings after clashes between demonstrators and police. Additionally, India has utilized the authoritarian tactic of shutting down the internet, further playing into the narrative that Modi is tightening his grip on India.
Thousands of people have been marching daily since December 12 to demand that the Citizenship Amendment Act is revoked, notably at Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and Uttar Pradesh state’s Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). This is a direct response to two almost simultaneous attacks that occurred on the campuses, police in riot gear fired tear gas shells and launched a baton charge on the protesting students. More than 100 students were wounded in the police action, some critically.
Their perception of the CAA is encapsulated by the words of Anupam Tiwari, a 21-year-old JMI student “India’s constitution is against any such law that discriminates on the basis religion, caste, creed or gender. This citizenship law is a clear attempt to declare Muslims as second-class citizens.” This was a catalyst for further protests and violence across India, nearly two dozen cities across India, including New Delhi, the financial hub of Mumbai, Ahmedabad in Gujarat state and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, have protested in solidarity. The Modi government has handled this challenge with authoritarianism, not only utilizing the previously mentioned force but also internet shutdowns. This method of control was used last year 134 times, and so far this year, 93 shutdowns have occurred, according to SFLC.IN. Authorities in the Northeastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura, as well as West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, have cut internet service.
Regardless of how much the Indian government says that the legislation protects people fleeing religious persecution, protestors will criticize it as being anti-Muslim and violating the country’s secular constitution.
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