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India to enact divisive citizenship law


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India’s interior ministry said Monday it was enacting a citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims, just weeks before the world’s most populous country heads into a general election.

While the law was passed in December 2019, its implementation was delayed after widespread protests and deadly violence erupted in which more than 100 people were reported to have been killed.

The law grants Indian nationality to Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Christians who entered India from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh before December 2014 — but not if they are Muslim.

On Monday, the Ministry of Home Affairs said the rules would now come into force.

“These rules, called the Citizenship (Amendment) Rules 2024, will enable the persons eligible… to apply for grant of Indian citizenship”, the ministry said in a statement.

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Many among India’s 200 million Muslims fear the law is a precursor to a national register of citizens that could leave them stateless in the country of 1.4 billion.

Many poor Indians do not have documents to prove their nationality.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi denies this, saying that Muslims are not covered by the legislation because they do not need India’s protection.

The National Register of Citizens, a list of all legal citizens, has so far only been implemented in the state of Assam.

‘Persecuted on religious grounds’

“These rules will now enable minorities persecuted on religious grounds in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to acquire citizenship in our nation,” Home Minister Amit Shah said in a statement.

Shah said Modi had “delivered on another commitment and realised the promise of the makers of our constitution to the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians living in those countries”.

Besides stoking concern among Muslims, the proposed changes also sparked protests by residents unhappy about an influx of Hindus from Bangladesh.

The immigration rules do not include migrants from non-Muslim countries fleeing persecution to India, including Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka and Tibetan Buddhists fleeing China’s rule.

It also does not address Rohingya Muslim refugees from neighbouring Myanmar.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party promised the law’s implementation in its 2019 election manifesto.

India is expected to soon announce dates for the general election, likely to be held in April-May, with Modi widely favoured to win a third term in office.

Rights groups have previously condemned the law.

Human Rights Watch calls it “discriminatory” and that, for the first time in India, “religion is a basis for granting citizenship”. (AFP)


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