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Deadly protests erupt in India over Modi’s divisive Citizenship Bill to “protect” minorities


Date:  December 17, 2019

At least five people were killed in India when violent protests broke out across nine states as anger flared in recent days over Prime Minister Modi’s controversial new Citizenship Amendment Bill.

If passed, the Bill will enshrine a pathway to citizenship for migrants from religious minorities from the three nearby Muslim-majority countries of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan but will specifically exclude Muslim migrants to India from those countries.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claims his Citizenship Amendment Bill will protect “vulnerable groups”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi claims his Citizenship Amendment Bill will protect “vulnerable groups”

The deaths occurred in Assam, in the northeast, as ongoing protests turned violent. Other protests erupted around university campuses in cities including the capital New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad. Dozens of arrests were made and hundreds injured in New Delhi as police struggled to bring crowds of thousands of protesters under control.

The Bill’s constitutionality has been heavily criticised by the Congress Party, the opposition to the ruling BJP party, for seeming to target India’s minority Muslim population and for its potential to undermine the country’s secular constitution.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has stated that it is “deeply troubled” by the anti-pluralistic Bill that could become a de facto “religious test” for Indian citizenship and strip citizenship from millions of Muslims. The Commission mooted that the US Congress should consider sanctions against India if the Bill is passed.

Modi has stated that the Bill is intended to protect “vulnerable groups” from persecution and it will “not affect any citizen of India of any religion”. He added that the Citizenship Bill “is only for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go, except India”.

However, in contrast to Modi’s statements, the freedoms of minority groups were flagged as deteriorating in India this month. CIVICUS Monitor, a global civic freedoms monitor, has downgraded India’s status from “obstructed” to “repressed”. The report of 4 December warned that essential civic freedoms – such as freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly – are now severely restricted.

Despite India’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, Christians and other non-Hindu minorities are now at increasing risk of being prevented from freely assembling together for events or public worship and face restrictions on openly expressing their faith.

Since Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, persecution of Indian Christians has intensified and there have been numerous targeted attacks. Hindu extremists appear to have been emboldened by the often lax response of police and authorities to anti-Christian persecution.

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