Nationwide protests have erupted across India in response to the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), NPR reports. Tens of thousands of demonstrators reportedly took to the streets and university campuses across the country yesterday to protest the law, which, they believe, treats Muslims unfairly.
The new law, passed last week by parliament, will see the Indian government ease naturalization proceedings exclusively for non-Muslim migrants from neighboring Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.
Backers of the bill argue that it is intended to help asylum seekers and refugees fleeing religious persecution from the three predominantly Muslim nations. Critics are saying the bill violates the Indian constitution, which describes the country as a secular democratic republic.
The mass protests come on the heels of violent clashes between police and student protesters on Sunday at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi. Witnesses say police stormed the campus with riot control weapons, including batons and tear gas, injuring more than 200 people, according to media reports. Some also allege that police officers sexually harassed female students during the raid. Demonstrators and student protesters in over 17 cities, including Mumbai, Bhopal, Jaipur, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and Lucknow, are saying they are marching in solidarity with victims of the violent unrest on Sunday.
Why they’re not allowed to protest peacefully?! unlawful violent prosecution by forces!! #RejectCAB #RejectNRC #JMU #JamiaMilia #DelhiPolice #Delhiviolence #CABPolitics #CABProtests #CABAgainstConstitution #SaveIndia #BharatBachao #democracy #SaveDemocracy #jnu #du #Delhi pic.twitter.com/D1T5tjWvQa
— MohammedAli (@Free_soul_ali) December 15, 2019
Observers are saying the unrest is one of the bloodiest in New Delhi’s recent history. Videos shared on social media purport to show bloodied protesters running and hiding in the university’s restrooms and library. “Damaged property can be recovered, but the emotional toll this has taken on our kids cannot be repaired,” Jamia Millia Islamia vice chancellor Najma Akhtar reportedly said, adding that the university is lodging a complaint against the police.
India’s 200 million Muslims, who account for over 14 percent of the population, are said to be facing mounting pressure and discrimination by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Modi, a member of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is often accused of anti-Muslim bigotry and of pandering to the country’s Hindu nationalists.
Critics are saying that the CAA is the latest in a series of anti-Muslim policies by the current government, most notably the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
The NRC is a public list of residents the state identifies as Indian citizens. The government says the registry is designed to generate a census for the northeastern city of Assam in order to identify illegal immigrants. The state claims that Assam’s Muslim residents whose families originate from Bangladesh are not eligible for Indian citizenship, Vox reports.
Two million residents of Assam were missing from the NRC list when it was published last August, many of whom were Muslims. Failing to provide documents to prove that they are Indian citizens would result in detention and, eventually, deportation.
Due to the parliament’s passing of the CAA, only Muslim residents of Assam whose names do not appear on the NRC list are subject to detention and deportation, while non-Muslims will have a clear path to citizenship.
Human rights activists also fear the implications of the two policies for India’s Muslim citizens, despite Modi’s assertion that “CAA does not affect any citizen of India of any religion.” The BJP did, however, express an interest in applying NRC nationwide, which activists are saying could result in major civil rights violations against Indian Muslims.
I want to unequivocally assure my fellow Indians that CAA does not affect any citizen of India of any religion. No Indian has anything to worry regarding this Act. This Act is only for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go except India.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 16, 2019
With 11 percent of the world’s Muslim population calling India home, the UN, Human Rights Watch, and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom have all expressed fears that Modi’s government’s action could lead to the biggest refugee crisis of all time, warning of “a humanitarian disaster of horrifying proportions,” according to Vox.