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NEW DELHI: Protests have erupted in India following the announcement of a government plan to enact a controversial citizenship law that excludes Muslims.
The Citizenship Amendment Act will allow religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to seek Indian citizenship — provided they are not Muslim.
The bill was passed by India’s parliament in 2019, but could not come into effect until its rules of implementation were notified, a process that was delayed due to violent protests that year, which claimed the lives of over 100 people.
Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah announced the rules on Monday, saying that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “delivered on another commitment, and realized the promise of the makers of our constitution to the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians.”
The implementation of the law has been one of Modi’s key promises as he seeks re-election in the general vote expected to be held between April and May.
The law is feared to discriminate against India’s 200 million Muslims, and a protest against its implementation took place at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi on Monday evening.
The demonstration was quickly dispersed by paramilitary forces, but rallies broke out in other parts of the country as well.
In the northeastern state of Assam, protesters mobilized by All Assam Student Union, the region’s oldest student body, took to the streets over fears that the law would threaten their position in their own land.
“Besides AASU, 30 other ethnic organizations are protesting against the implementation of the law,” Samujjal Bhattacharya, the union’s secretary general, told Arab News.
“By granting citizenship to the people from the neighboring countries, the local Assamese will become second-class citizens. We will become second-class citizens in our own land.”
The CAA amends the Indian Citizenship Law, which prevents illegal migrants from becoming Indian citizens. Under the new regulation, those seeking citizenship will have to prove that they arrived in India from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan by Dec. 31, 2014.
Although the Indian government has not announced the date the law change would come into effect, the Indian Union Muslim League, a political party based in the southern Indian state of Kerala, filed an application in the Supreme Court asking it to stay the law as discriminatory on religious grounds, while civil society group United Against Hate said it was “violative of the fundamental principles of the Indian Constitution.”
The group’s co-founder, Nadeem Khan, said the CAA will “fundamentally alter” the character of the Indian republic.
“Indian citizenship flows from the Constitution of India that grants it as a fundamental right. A right cannot be religion-specific or country-of-origin specific,” he told Arab News.
The controversial law has been heavily protested by opposition parties from the beginning.
The chief ministers of Kerala and West Bengal announced on Monday evening they would not allow the implementation of the CAA in their states.
“The action of the central government, which notified the provisions of the Citizenship Amendment Act ahead of the elections, is to disturb the country,” Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said in a statement.
“This is to divide the people, stir up communal feelings, and undermine the basic principles of the constitution. This move to divide Indian citizens with equal rights should be unitedly opposed.”

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