On Monday 9 December India’s Lok Sabha (Lower House) passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 (CAB), which will grant citizenship to religious minorities from neighbouring countries but controversially excludes Muslims.
The CAB assures that non-Muslim refugees who have fled religious persecution from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan and have applied for Indian citizenship on or before 31 December 2014 will be covered. However, when presenting the Bill for debate, India’s Home Minister Amit Shah falsely asserted that he did not see how Muslims could benefit from the Bill as they did not face religious persecution in these countries, despite the fact that discrimination and persecution against the Muslim Ahmadiyya, Shia and Rohingya communities has been widely and historically documented in the region.
Mr Shah also said that the government would not have had to legislate this law had the Congress party which was in power during India’s independence not divided the country based on religion, referring to the Partition of India and Pakistan.
Father Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit priest and a human rights activist in India, said: “This act of the government is another nail in the coffin of India’s Constitution and our democratic framework. Whilst assuring citizenship to all undocumented person except those of the Muslim faith, the CAB risks tearing the country apart, reopening unhealed wounds of the Partition and ultimately destroying the secular and democratic tenets of our revered Constitution. Already millions of people all over the country are protesting against it. The Bill must be withdrawn immediately and the Upper House should not pass it.”
The passing of the Bill has already received heavy criticism from international and domestic civil rights groups, who claim that the Bill is in principle a violation of several clauses of the Indian Constitution, including Article 14, which ensures equality without discrimination for everyone regardless of religion.
This Amendment comes in the wake of other recent government steps that have deepened communal polarisation. These include: the stripping away of the special status of the Kashmir Valley, the only state in India with a Muslim majority population; and the drive to implement a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), which requires every person residing in India to prove their citizenship. Commenting on the impact of the NRC, Father Cedric added: “This is an extremely dangerous step and the country today stands at the brink of catastrophic human suffering and injustice, if the government implements it nationwide as planned.”
The CAB now goes to the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) on 11 December for a vote after winning a resounding 311-80 majority in the Lower House.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “As a country built on the foundational values of justice, liberty, equality and the promotion of fraternity, CSW is deeply concerned by India’s decision which enables discrimination against individuals based on their religion or belief. Keeping Muslims out of the equation will only disenfranchise the community and result in serious consequences for the integrity of the nation. We call on India to revise the Bill immediately to ensure that all individuals have access to Indian citizenship, regardless of their religion or belief.”