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India Engulfed in Violent Religious Protests

By: Ranya Merchant (Correspondent)

In the most populous secular democratic country, equal rights and religious freedom are promises the Indian government makes to its citizens, however, the creation of a new act may be changing that.

As of February 2020, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has been confirmed to take effect in India soon. The CAA would allow citizenship for illegal immigrants who have entered India before December 31, 2014. However, to be eligible for this citizenship, they must be Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, or Parsi, and be from the following countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan. The declaration of this act has caused extreme outrage from the public while the Indian government remains certain of its decision. 

 Noticeably, the CAA excludes a major minority in India— Muslims. It overlooks many other countries that are in urgent need of support from India, bringing up the question why is the Indian government only interested in helping a select group of people and what ulterior motives may they have? 

The answer to this question comes from a second act created called the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Its purpose is to document all legal citizens of India so that all illegal immigrants can be deported. This is done by sending all people who are unable to provide official documentation of their citizenship to detention camps where they will eventually be deported. 

 “Why should India not open its doors for Ahmadis, who are persecuted in Pakistan, or Hindu Tamils from Sri Lanka?” said Nobel Peace Prize winner Abhijit Banerjee. “Why not open our doors to everyone who signs up in our national mission of being democratic, open, tolerant and inclusive?” he added. 

When asked if he was concerned about the CAA, United Nations Secretary, António Guterres, answered, “Of course I am concerned. This is an area in which the relevant UN body is quite active. It is absolutely essential when a nationality law is changed, the statelessness is prevented.”

The NRC has not been fully implemented in India yet, but it has been tested in Assam, an Indian state next to Bangladesh, where nearly 2 million people were proven to be illegal immigrants. Out of this 2 million, the majority were Muslims and Hindus. The implementation of the CAA allows Hindus in the detention camps to claim citizenship, leaving Muslims to endure their dangers. 

Additionally, a large amount of India’s population is poverty-stricken and unable to provide the correct documentation needed even if they are rightful citizens. 

Across India, many huge protests against the NRC and CAA have commenced, ending in over 25 deaths. One protester, Asma Kastoon, explains her resentment to the act: “You give me the names of seven generations of your family! You ask us to prove if we are Indians? There can be fire at home. There are floods. How is a poor person supposed to save documents?” 

Another protester, Salma Fazal, added “If we do not sit here today, we might have to sit in a detention center tomorrow. So we will fight for our rights here and now. We will not allow Modi to change our Constitution. People of all religions cooperated to give us this Constitution.” 

Despite the opposition Indian Home Minister Amit Shah said that the Indian government is not shaken by protests. “Let me say it loud and clear that whoever wants to protest, can protest. We will not revoke CAA. We are not scared of agitation, we were born of it.”

“People wanted these decisions to be taken. There is pressure from the world but we will continue to take decisions that are important for the development of the country,” said India’s Prime Minister, Narenrdra Modi, declaring that the CAA has been a long time coming.

Nevertheless, the NRC and CAA continue with strong feeling of contempt from all around the world, including the European Parliament that said, “We deeply regret the adoption and implementation of the CAA, which is discriminatory in nature and dangerously divisive. We call on the Government of India to immediately respond to citizens’ petitions as required by the Supreme Court.”

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