THE peers in the House of Lords debated the impact of India’s new citizenship law, and asked the UK government to discuss with India the concerns around minority rights.
Initiated by crossbench peer John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich, on Tuesday, the debate called on the UK government to urge Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to conduct a review of its Citizenship (Amendment) Act and its effects on Indian society, amid the deadly Delhi riots linked to the legislation.
“The Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, which passed through the Lok Sabha in December, granted an amnesty to illegal immigrants from three neighbouring countries—Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh—but not to Muslims from those countries. Unsurprisingly, there have been riots and protests in New Delhi, Aligarh and all over the country, and not only from the Muslim community,” said Montagu.
“The regular migration of families between our two countries suggests that there is more sensitivity to discrimination than ever within our Asian minorities. This hits the Muslim community hardest.”
Lord Meghnad Desai said the reactions to the act reflected a “conjectural fear” because neither the act nor the contentious National Register of Citizens had been implemented.
“It is said that the act is unconstitutional, but we do not know that yet because the Supreme Court of India has not yet heard on that issue. People are saying that the CAA has been passed for no other reason than to let the Hindus with dubious papers to go through but not anyone else. This has not yet happened—it is a conjectural fear,” he said.
Lord Raj Loomba highlighted that the CAA had been passed through an “open, transparent and fully democratic process”.
“The government of India has repeatedly clarified that the CAA is to grant citizenship on a one-time basis to a group of persons with no alternative options and not to take away the citizenship of anyone, much less an Indian Muslim,” he said.
Lord Indarjit Singh, however, warned that the new act could offer a legal route to discrimination in the name of religion.
“I appeal to our own government to work directly, and through the Commonwealth, to add to this positive momentum for tolerance and respect for all people, in a wonderful country,” he said.
The UK government responded that it had been “closely” monitoring the situation, and would raise concerns, in any, with “close friend and partner” India.
“Ongoing protests against the act across India leave no doubt that this legislation is divisive,” said Baroness Liz Sugg, the parliamentary under-secretary of state in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
“I know that people in this country—including in this House as has been made clear today—feel strongly about it. For our part, the UK government has concerns about the impact of the legislation. Its full impact remains unclear.
“We hope and trust that the government of India will address the concerns and protect the rights of people of all religions, in keeping with India’s Constitution, its democratic values and its inclusive traditions.”