Protests, strikes as India Parliament considers controversial citizenship bill

Students protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Guwahati, India. (AP)
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Updated 10 December 2019

Protests, strikes as India Parliament considers controversial citizenship bill

  • Some see the move as a blatant attack on India’s secularism and its minority Muslim community

NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Monday tabled its controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in the lower house of Parliament amid strike threats and protests against it throughout the country.

The bill, which seeks to amend the country’s Citizenship Act 1955, is aimed at granting citizenship to persecuted minorities such as Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and Parsis from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but excludes Muslims.

After introducing the bill in Parliament, Indian Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah, said: “Why do we need this bill today? After independence, if Congress had not partitioned the country on the basis of religion, we would not have needed this bill. Congress did partition on the basis of religion.”

The bill, he added, sought to give Indian nationality to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who were facing religious persecution there, and did “not violate any of the constitutional provisions.”

The idea of the CAB gained currency after the publication of the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) — a process of identifying illegal citizens in the northeastern state of Assam — on Aug. 31.

After five years of implementing the rigorous process, the NRC found more than 1.9 million illegal citizens in Assam out of which close to 65 percent were estimated to be Bengali Hindus.

For the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which considers Hindus as its core constituency, it was a huge setback. Therefore, immediately after the publication of the NRC list, BJP leaders in Assam and Delhi started to criticize the list, calling it faulty and demanding a fresh NRC. To relieve Hindu tensions, the BJP promised to bring a new CAB to Parliament.

Additionally, Shah also announced last month that his government would conduct an all-India NRC to identify illegal citizens, with Assam having to go through the process again.

Some see the move as a blatant attack on India’s secularism and its minority Muslim community.

“This bill is not even .001 percent against minorities. It is against infiltrators,” Shah said.

However, opposition groups, led by the Congress party, say the legislation runs against the basic principles of the constitution and secularism.

“The bill is a violation of our constitution’s secular ethos, culture, tradition and civilization, and we will oppose it,” said Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Congress leader in the lower house.

With opposition parties lacking a majority in both houses of the Indian Parliament, the bill is likely to pass without facing many hurdles.

But the views of the main opposition have been represented on the streets with different political and social groups staging demonstrations in various parts of the country.

In the eastern city of Kolkata, thousands of people held a rally to protest against the CAB and the proposed NRC.

Organized by a joint forum of different civil society groups, the protesters called the citizenship bill “communal and anti-constitutional” and vowed to campaign against it across India.

The capital Delhi witnessed its third protest in as many days against CAB. On Monday, the All India United Democratic Front of Assam (AIUDF) held a demonstration and asked the government to “reconsider” the citizenship bill.

Similar protests have also been organized in the southern Indian city of Bangalore where people expressed “deep anxiety” over the CAB, while all eight northeastern states were due to stage a general strike against the CAB on Tuesday.

“Citizenship based on religion is an attack on the very foundation of the secular India,” said Samujjal Bhattacharya, adviser to the North East Students’ Organization (NESO), an Assam-based civil society group which is spearheading a campaign against the CAB.

Bhattacharya told Arab News that the Assam agitation of the 1980s was against illegal citizens from Bangladesh and was not targeted against any religion, but the CAB was detrimental to the interests of the entire northeast.

Assam-based Aman Wadud, a human rights activist and lawyer, said: “You have to read the citizenship bill with the NRC and then it becomes clear that the main purpose of the CAB is to harass Muslims and divide the society on religious grounds.

“The Assam NRC has proved that illegal immigrants in India is a myth and it is whipped only to arouse the emotion of the people.”

Syed Sadatullah Hussaini, president of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), a prominent Islamic organization in India, said: “The way the ruling BJP is attaching the NRC with the citizenship bill is an attempt to target the Muslim population. It is against the constitutional values of India. It is an attempt to legitimize the two-nation theory and treat Hindus and Muslims as separate entities in India.”

Meanwhile, popular historian and political analyst, Ramachandra Guha, told Arab News that the CAB was “part bigotry, part headline management. This regime is pathologically anti-Muslim, and it desperately wants to divert attention from the perilous state of the economy.”


US confirms second case of China virus, UK clears 14 tested

Updated 24 January 2020

US confirms second case of China virus, UK clears 14 tested

  • Second case detected in US, 50 other suspected cases under investigation
  • All 14 people who were tested for the coronavirus in the UK had visited Wuhan

WASHINGTON/LONDON: A woman in Chicago in her sixties was Friday confirmed as the second patient on US soil infected with a deadly new virus originating in China, health officials said, with 50 other suspected cases under investigation.
The contagion has so far claimed 26 lives in China, sickened hundreds and has spread across several Asian countries as well as the US.
“I’m pleased to report she is clinically doing well and is in stable condition,” said Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health of the new patient.
Nancy Messonier, senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said the agency had so far tested 63 samples from patients across 22 US states for the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.
Eleven were found to be negative and two positive, and the CDC was working to make diagnosis kits more nationally available. At present the testing is occurring at the agency’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Chicago patient had traveled to Wuhan in late December before returning to the US on January 13, Arwady said, a few days before health screenings began at major airports for travelers originating from the central Chinese city that is at the center of the outbreak.
She began experiencing symptoms and called her health care providers, and was later admitted to hospital and placed in isolation.
“She has not taken public transportation, have not attended any large gatherings and, she has not had extended close contact with anyone outside her home since returning from China,” added Arwady.
The US confirmed its first case of the infection earlier this week, a man in his thirties from Washington state who had also traveled to Wuhan recently and also reported himself to authorities after developing mild symptoms.
Neither of the cases were detected by the airport screenings that began on January 17, said CDC official Martin Cetron, and both patients had no symptoms or fever when they first arrived in the US.
China has placed a travel ban across a vast region encompassing 13 cities and more than 40 million people, and the US was now “reevaluating” its approach of carrying out airport screenings, added Cetron.
The previously unknown virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
Meanwhile, everyone tested in Britain for a deadly virus that has infected hundreds in China has been given the all-clear, a top doctor said Friday after an emergency government meeting.
All 14 people who were tested for the coronavirus had visited Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak which has killed 26 people in China and spread to other parts of Asia and the United States.
Four of the five patients tested in Scotland were Chinese nationals, officials said, without disclosing the nationality of the others.
Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said attempts were being made to trace everyone who had arrived in Britain from Wuhan in the past two weeks.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” he told the BBC.
Representatives of the ministries of transport, home affairs, foreign affairs, education, health and devolved nations attended a special COBRA meeting on Friday, the government said.
“We all agree that the risk to the UK public remains low, but there may well be cases in the UK at some stage,” Whitty said.