Image Credit: Sanjeev Yadav, DiplomatTesterMan
The world may have entered a new decade, but India has failed to put an end to protests that began in response to a new law passed in the closing weeks of 2019. Despite being first introduced in 2016, last month saw the introduction of India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in parliament. Aimed at protecting minorities, it offers amnesty to non-Muslim illegal immigrants who entered India on or before the 31st December 2014 from three neighbouring countries; Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. This amends the 64 year old citizenship law which previously prohibited all illegal immigrants from becoming citizens.
The bill passed through parliament with 125 votes to 105, despite the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government lacking enough seats to hold a majority. However, the introduction of the new law has not had a smooth transition.
Across the country, protests have broken out in response. No state has been subject to as much devastation that the reaction to these demonstrations has caused than Utter Pradesh. Home to over 40 million Muslims fear has gripped the northern state for weeks, with it being reported that 22 have been killed and 50 police officers have been injured in the process. The BBC's Vikas Pandey spoke to civilians in the area, one of whom shared with him that his 30 year old son had died after being shot in the stomach. Mohammed Raees, son of Mohammed Shareef, was not part of the protests, according to his father he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It provides another case of a civilian fatality being caught up in the crossfire of religious tension.
Shareef confided in Pandev that the question remained in his head how being Muslim and an Indian citizen remained incompatible with one another. Yet, the BJP State Chief, Swatantra Dev Singh, maintains the position that they are not a discriminatory party, and that the Act aims to work for all castes and religions. Nonetheless, reports are confirming suspicions that the majority of those killed in protests are Muslim.
Opposers of the Act have criticised Prime Minister Modi’s motives. They argue that if he was concerned about protecting minorities within close proximity to India’s boarders, he should’ve allowed the Act to include those facing severe cases of persecution such as the Ahmadi community in Pakistan and the Rohingya in Myanmar. Instead, the government has filed a motion with the Supreme Court to deport Rohingya refugees from the country. Modi stands by his actions however, expressing that this bill is not anti-Muslim, but many are still highly concerned with the links this stance shows to Hindu nationalism.
Some officials have not been as discrete with their motives. The Chief Minister of Gujarat,Vijay Rupani, explained how Muslims have 150 different countries that can choose to reside in, but for Hindus there is only one option; India.
Economists have a different quarrel with the Prime Minister however. They claim that the CAA, while devastating to millions in its own right, is a smokescreen for domestic problems that occurred on the Prime Minister’s watch, such as a decrease in national employment and an economic downturn. They claim how the protests have actually distracted the public and the media from the problems with India’s economy.
The CAA has created widespread fear for the Indian Muslim community, but it has also redefined the concept of Indian identity while bringing decade long underlying religious tensions in the nation to the surface. According to India’s constitution, it is a secular nation that will not make religion a condition of citizenship. This new law contradicts this sentiment by excluding the Muslim community from the new amnesty, while public dissent and the right to protest to this are being called unacceptable by the government.
Despite ongoing border disputes, India has the second largest Muslim population in the world. Yet, for many this new legislation has put their home under threat. Where religion can offer hope to so many, this has proved that when it is met with hostility, it also has the power to bring despair.