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India’s Divisive Citizenship Law has United All Faiths to Stand Up for Justice

Tasnim Nazeer speaks to those in India on what Narendra Modi’s law prohibiting Muslims from applying for Indian citizenship means for the world’s largest democracy.

Tasnim Nazeer speaks to those in India on what Narendra Modi’s law prohibiting Muslims from applying for Indian citizenship means for the world’s largest democracy.

The Indian Government has implemented a new citizenship law which grants citizenship to all religious minorities apart from Muslims, causing widespread condemnation and protests across the country. 

Indian lawmakers passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill on Tuesday which enables Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Jain and Parsi citizens of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh the opportunity to apply for Indian citizenship – but it has not listed Muslims as being eligible. This means that the many Muslims who come from these countries and are fleeing persecution will now no longer be able to go to India for safe sanctuary.

Yet, despite the Indian Government’s attempts to sow division, people from all faiths have united in India to stand up for justice.

“My Sikh and Hindu friends are also protesting alongside me because they believe that this act has been done deliberately by the Government and that we should all stand united as one,” Asfa Mohamed, a student from Hyderabad, told Byline Times. “There are many Muslims in India facing persecution but what makes me feel reassured is the level of support we have across the nation now that people are realising what type of Government this really is. We want to amplify our voices and show that we, the Indian people, will not give in to such discrimination or tolerate acts that go against our values as one nation and one family”.

A peaceful protest which was held in the capital Delhi by students at Jamia Millia Islamia University saw violence from police as they cracked down on innocent  students, injured dozens and fired tear gas at students to curb condemnation of the bill. Many citizens in Delhi faced blocks on their internet use and metro stations were shut down. But protests continued despite regulations such as section 144 being put in place to stop them – a testament to the fact that people are coming in their hundreds to hold the Government to account. 

The UN has deemed the law as being “fundamentally discriminatory against Muslim migrants” and many non-Muslim Indians are stating that this law is against India’s secular values. 

Sadhana Subramanian, a senior content editor from Bangalore told Byline Times: “Today I went for a protest in Bangalore… Despite section 144 being imposed, lots of people from all faiths gathered to protest. Some of them got detained, but what was remarkable was that more people began to show up. We have a right to protest and this is why people are coming to the streets because we have had enough of the lack of democracy. Why is it so hard for those supporting this law to see people as people instead of Muslims? We are all equal. Where is the humanity?”

Much of the opposition to the law is from those who want every citizen of India to be treated equally, but there has also been an argument that has not been touched on – that the law is not only about religion, but also about the Government causing more austerity for poorer people who cannot afford to pay to prove their citizenship, as well as wasting taxpayers’ money in its administration.

“In the entire universe there is no religion,” Ankush Tiwari, a performing artist and TED Talk speaker from Delhi, said. “I believe that there is one religion and one community called humans. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the citizenship amendment bill charges for people to prove their citizenship [and] it is impossible for people to afford the amount. The Government are using people like us to waste taxpayer’s money. Instead of this, they could have used the money to invest in employment or growing development of the country. 

“People are spreading propaganda about the peaceful protestors in order to defame students in order for the Government to reprimand them. As a Brahmin Hindu, I feel the people have been manipulated and fooled by this Government. Unemployment and hunger is increasing, but the Government wants to distract people by putting up these laws.” 

As a British Muslim myself, born to Sri Lankan parents and with Indian ancestors, I am concerned about the future of the country. I love India and it is positive to see people of all different faiths coming out and voicing their views against this authoritarian law. Religious minorities all deserve to flee persecution and it is a testament that people from all walks of life are coming together to stand up for human rights in the face of adversity. 

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