India passes citizenship bill amid protests


Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), that seeks to give citizenship to religious minorities persecuted in neighbouring Muslim countries, in Guwahati, India, December 11, 2019 (REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika).
Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), that seeks to give citizenship to religious minorities persecuted in neighbouring Muslim countries, in Guwahati, India, December 11, 2019 (REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika).

INDIA’S parliament Wednesday (11) passed a bill that seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from some countries, as hundreds of troops were deployed in the northeast which has been hit by violent protests.

The bill will let the Indian government grant citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants who entered India from three neighbouring countries before 2015 but not if they are Muslim.

The legislation was passed 125-105 by the upper house, after the lower house voted in support of it just after midnight on Tuesday.

It will be sent to the president to be signed into law, with his approval seen as a formality.

“A landmark day for India and our nation’s ethos of compassion and brotherhood!,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted.

“This Bill will alleviate the suffering of many who faced persecution for years.”

Opponents of the legislation have threatened to challenge it in the Supreme Court, saying it violates the principles of equality and secularism enshrined in the constitution.

The proposed changes have led to demonstrations in the northeastern states where residents are unhappy about an influx of Hindus from neighbouring Bangladesh who stand to gain citizenship under the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB).

In the third day of protests in the far-flung region, several hundred troops were deployed in Tripura state and in Guwahati, Assam’s biggest city, a senior army official said.

Police fired tear gas in different parts of Guwahati as several thousand demonstrators attempted to barge past security barriers to converge on the adjoining state capital Dispur.

Tripura and parts of Assam suspended mobile internet services, with Assam wanting to avoid social media posts that could “inflame passions”.

Gatherings of more than four people were banned for 24 hours.

“We appeal to all the students, civilians, tea garden workers and all sections of the society to come out to the streets again tomorrow to protest,” local activist Akhil Gogoi said ahead of the upper house vote.

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.

“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.

Modi’s government re-elected in May  says Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan are excluded from the legislation because they do not face discrimination in those countries.

Also left out are other minorities fleeing political or religious persecution elsewhere in the region such as Tamils from Sri Lanka, Rohingya from Myanmar and Tibetans from China.

(AFP)