India enacts citizenship law that excludes Muslims

The Indian government has implemented a controversial citizenship law, widely criticized for its alleged discrimination against Muslims, just weeks before Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces a general election.

Known as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the law has stirred significant controversy as it explicitly bases Indian citizenship on religion. It grants expedited citizenship to Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Christians who entered India from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh before December 2014, but excludes Muslims from this provision.

Although passed in December 2019, the law’s enforcement was postponed due to widespread protests and violence, resulting in numerous arrests and reported fatalities. Critics, including lawyers, activists, and citizens, voiced concerns that the CAA undermines India’s secular principles enshrined in the constitution and legitimizes discrimination against Muslims. Many argued that the law was unnecessary as the mentioned minorities were already eligible for citizenship.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government vowed to enact the law before the upcoming election, anticipated in mid-April, with Modi expected to secure a third term. The Ministry of Home Affairs announced the enactment of the CAA late on Monday night, with Home Minister Amit Shah stating that it fulfilled a commitment to persecuted minorities in neighboring countries.

Amnesty International condemned the CAA as discriminatory and against constitutional principles and international human rights laws. Despite opposition-led states, such as West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, pledging non-implementation, the new rules grant limited authority to state governments in the citizenship application process, primarily under central government control.

Concerns among India’s Muslim population have heightened, fearing the law could lead to a national citizens’ register, rendering many stateless due to lack of documentation. The Modi government denied these claims, asserting that Muslims were not covered because they did not require India’s protection. However, the law excludes persecuted Muslim groups like Rohingya Muslims and Hazara Shias and non-Muslim migrants fleeing persecution, including Tamil refugees and Tibetan Buddhists.

Additionally, the legislation has sparked protests in states like Assam, where residents fear an influx of Hindus from Bangladesh could threaten their culture. Indigenous rights and student groups in Assam staged protests, denouncing the CAA and vowing to continue their resistance against what they perceive as a threat to their identity and culture.

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