Earlier this month, India passed legislation – the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 – granting Indian citizenship to “persecuted” religious minorities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs are all included in the bill’s language. Conspicuously missing, however, are Muslims. Opposition groups claim the law is an affront to Indian pluralism and a violation of its secular constitution.
Since the bill’s passage, protests have spread across the country and inter-communal tensions are soaring. Now, the murder of five Muslim men in the northern city of Meerut is fueling further unrest. Late yesterday evening, Zaheer Ahmed, a local Muslim man, was shot in the head after returning home from work. Shortly after, four other Muslims were reportedly killed in the same neighborhood.
The families of the victims claim the police killed them during an attempt to control protests over the citizenship bill. The police, however, dispute this claim. They say violent protestors’ stray bullets likely killed the men. A police investigation is reportedly underway.
In defense of the act
Proponents of the law, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), say the law was intended to grant citizenship to religious minorities facing persecution in neighboring countries. Defending the bill earlier this week, Modi sought to quell any concerns. “I want to clarify once again that the CAA is not going to take away anybody’s citizenship,” he said. “It is about giving citizenship to those facing discrimination,” added Modi.
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh are all Muslim-majority countries. For this reason, Modi argues that Muslims are exempt from persecuted minority status from these neighboring nations.
Those against the bill, however, claim this argument is politically convenient and dangerous. Since taking office in 2014, Prime Minister Modi allegedly stands accused of promoting Hindu nationalism. His party, BJP, seemingly has a history of attracting anti-Muslim politicians.
In the northeast state of Assam, the local government is implementing a civil registration system. Many people are being denied citizenship – the majority reportedly being Muslim. Most of India’s 1.3 billion citizens are Hindu. Muslims make up around 14% of the country’s population. The BJP won a landslide victory earlier this year in congressional elections, cementing Modi’s power.
The CAA and its subsequent protests seem to allude to the limits of majority-centric policies in India among the broader public. Over 900 Indian academics and public figures have come together to write a letter to Modi urging withdrawal of the bill. Currently, there are no plans to amend this piece of legislation.