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.”


Indian PM lays foundation of temple at razed mosque site

Updated 05 August 2020

Indian PM lays foundation of temple at razed mosque site

  • The Babri Masjid mosque was destroyed by Hindu radicals with pickaxes and crowbars in December 1992, sparking massive Hindu-Muslim violence
  • The violence left some 2,000 people dead, most of them Muslims

AYODHYA, India: Despite the coronavirus restricting a large crowd, Hindus rejoiced Wednesday as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke ground on a long-awaited temple of their most revered god, Ram, at the site of a demolished 16th century mosque.
Modi offered prayers to nine stone blocks with Ram inscribed on them and kept in a small pit amid chanting of Hindu religious hymns to symbolize the start of construction of the temple, which is expected to take 3 1/2 years to complete. The blocks will serve as the monument’s foundation stones.
Modi wore a traditional outfit of a gold Kurta, a long shirt and a white Dhoti — a loose cloth wrapped around his waist — along with a face mask. Before the start of the ceremony, he prostrated before a small idol of the god Ram that was kept in a makeshift temple set up by Hindu nationalists at the site where the mosque was demolished in 1992.
“It’s an emotional and historic moment. Wait has been worthwhile,” said Lal Krishna Advani, a 92-year-old leader of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, who was at the forefront of the party’s temple campaign in the 1990s.
Organizers said the ceremony was set on an astrologically auspicious date for Hindus, but Wednesday also marked a year since the Indian Parliament revoked the semi-autonomous status of its only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir.
The symbolism was impossible to miss since Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party had long pledged in its manifesto to strip Kashmir’s autonomy and to build a temple to Ram where the Mughal-era mosque once stood.
Modi said in a speech that the ceremony was a “historic occasion” for which Hindus waited for centuries.
He recalled that Mohandas Gandhi, India’s independence leader, fondly referred to “Ram Rajya (rule)” as an ideal state where values of justice and equality prevailed and even the weakest people could get justice.
He said the proposed temple will become a symbol of “modern India.”
The main roads of Ayodhya were barricaded and about 3,000 paramilitary soldiers guarded the city, where all shops and businesses were closed. Last week, a priest and 15 police officers at the temple site tested positive for the coronavirus, which has infected 1.9 million people in India and killed more than 39,000.
“Had this function been held on normal days, all these roads would have been chock-a-block with people. Millions of people would have come to Ayodhya to witness this historic event,” temple priest Hari Mohan said.
Only 175 religious saints, priests and Hindu and Muslim community representatives were invited to the ceremony. But many, including senior leaders of Hindu nationalist organizations, weren’t wearing masks, or were wearing them improperly.
Water from Indian rivers in 2,000 earthen pots sent by various Hindu temples and Sikh shrines was poured at the site.
The groundbreaking follows a ruling by India’s Supreme Court last November favoring the building of a Hindu temple on the disputed site in Uttar Pradesh state. Hindus believe Ram was born at the site and claim Muslim Emperor Babur built a mosque on top of a temple there.
The Babri Masjid mosque was destroyed by Hindu radicals with pickaxes and crowbars in December 1992, sparking massive Hindu-Muslim violence that left some 2,000 people dead, most of them Muslims. The Supreme Court’s verdict allowed a temple to be built in place of the demolished mosque.
Those invited to the groundbreaking ceremony included Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the BJP’s parent organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and Iqbal Ansari, the main Muslim litigant in the Supreme Court case, who now supports building the temple in Ayodhya.
The court also ordered that Muslims be given 5 acres (2 hectares) of land to build a new mosque at a nearby site.
The temple will be around 235 feet (72 meters) wide, 300 feet (91.5 meters) long and 161 feet (49 meters) high with five domes with a total area around 84,000 square feet (7,804 square meters). The complex will also have a prayer hall, lecture hall, visitors’ hostel and museum.
Houses and other buildings close to the temple site were painted yellow to recreate the look when Ram ruled there for thousands of years, according to the Hindu epic Ramayana.
“Yellow is an auspicious color. As per Hindu tradition, yellow symbolizes purity and light,” temple priest Mahant Kamal Narain Das said.
Muslims comprise about 14% of Hindu-majority India’s population of 1.3 billion. The temple-mosque dispute badly divided Hindus and Muslims, often triggering communal clashes.
Prominent Muslims have said the community was resigned to the new reality but fear the new temple could embolden Hindu nationalists to target two other mosques in Uttar Pradesh.