Indians demonstrate against ‘divisive’ citizenship bill

India’s eight northeastern states observed a day-long strike against the citizenship bill. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2019

Indians demonstrate against ‘divisive’ citizenship bill

  • The bill, which goes to the upper house on Wednesday, would ensure citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but exclude Muslims

NEW DELHI: Protests erupted across various parts of India on Tuesday, a day after the lower house of Parliament passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) which makes religion the basis for granting Indian citizenship to minorities from neighboring countries. 

The bill, which goes to the upper house on Wednesday, would ensure citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but exclude Muslims.

“After the CAB, we are going to bring in the National Register of Citizens (NRC),” Home Minister Amit Shah said after the passage of the bill. 

The fear among a large section of Indians is that by bringing in the CAB and the NRC — a process to identify illegal immigrants — the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to target Muslim minorities. 

They insist that the new bill protects all other communities except Muslims, who constitute around 14 percent of India’s total population.

The opposition Congress Party said that the bill was a move to “destroy the foundation” of India.

“The CAB is an attack on the Indian constitution. Anyone who supports it is attacking and attempting to destroy the foundation of our nation,” party leader Rahul Gandhi posted in a tweet.

Priyanka Gandhi, Rahul’s sister and a prominent opposition leader, called the bill “India’s tryst with bigotry.”

However, BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma said: “The opposition is communalizing the bill. 

The CAB saves minorities who owe their origin to India from being prosecuted on grounds of religious status. The same is not the case with Muslims since they have not been prosecuted because of their religion.”

Eight northeastern states observed a day-long strike against the CAB. 

“Once the bill is implemented, the native tribal people will become permanent minorities in their own state,” Animesh Debbarma, a tribal leader who organized the strike in the state of Tripura said.

“The bill is against our fundamental rights and it is an attack on our constitution and secularism,” he told Arab News.

In Assam, some places saw violence with a vehicle belonging to the BJP state president vandalized.

In New Delhi, different civil society groups and individuals gathered close to the Indian Parliament and expressed their outrage at the “open and blatant attack” on what they called the “idea” of India.

“The CAB is not only against Muslim minorities but against all the minorities — be it Tamils or Nepali Gurkhas — and is a blatant attempt to polarize the society in the name of religion and turn India into a majoritarian Hindu state,” Nadeem Khan, head of United Against Hate, a campaign to connect people from different faiths, said.

Rallies and protests were also organized in Pune, Ahmadabad, Allahabad, Patna and Lucknow.

On Tuesday, more than 600 academics, activists, lawyers and writers called the bill “divisive, discriminatory, unconstitutional” in an open letter, and urged the government to withdraw the proposed law.

They said that the CAB, along with the NRC, “will bring untold suffering to people across the country. It will damage fundamentally and irreparably, the nature of the Indian republic.”

Delhi-based activist and a prominent human rights campaigner, Harsh Mander, said: “I feel the CAB is the most dangerous bill that has ever been brought by the Indian Parliament. We need a mass civil disobedience movement to oppose this legislation.”

Meanwhile, the international community is also watching the domestic debate on the CAB. 

Describing the initiative as a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction,”  a federal US commission on international religious freedom has sought US sanctions against Shah and other Indian leaders if the bill with the “religious criterion” is passed.

EU ambassador to India, Ugo Astuto, in a press conference in New Delhi on Monday said that he hopes: “The spirit of equality enshrined in the Indian constitution will be upheld by the Parliament.”


Singapore confirms first case of Wuhan virus

Updated 23 January 2020

Singapore confirms first case of Wuhan virus

Singapore Thursday confirmed its first case of the new SARS-like virus which has killed 17 people in China and spread to multiple countries including the United States.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the patient was a 66-year-old man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore with his family on Monday.
He was immediately isolated after arriving at a hospital with a fever and cough, and test results later confirmed he was infected with the coronavirus.
One of his traveling companions, a 37-year-old man from Wuhan, has also been admitted to hospital as a suspect case.
Prior to admission, they had stayed at a hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, the ministry said.
It added that Singapore was expecting more cases and alarms “given the high volume of international travel.”
Moreover, tourists leaving Bangkok for China said on Thursday they were worried about the spread of the Wuhan virus, ahead of more air and train travel in the lead-up to the Lunar New Year holidays.
China has placed Wuhan, a city of 11 million, on lockdown, as it is considered the epicenter of a new coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 and infected nearly 600.
Thailand has so far confirmed four cases of coronavirus, the largest number outside China. Two of the cases were Chinese women who have since been allowed to return home. Chinese tourists make up the largest group of visitors to Thailand.
At Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, masked visitors lined up as usual to check in for Southern China Airlines flights back to China.
AirAsia said on Thursday it has canceled direct flights between Wuhan and cities in Thailand and Malaysia until Jan 28.
Matt Thomas, who lives in the Chinese city of Xian, said he was worried about the new Chinese virus, especially because he once contracted swine flu which he described as “awful.”
“I’m a bit worried that it will repeat. I have just got to be safe. In these sorts of situations, you know, take everything seriously, don’t take any risks,” Thomas said.
Chinese health officials fear the transmission rate will accelerate, as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year.