A New Era of Persecution and Protest: What the Citizenship Amendment Act Means for the Future of India

India’s Citizenship Amendment Act passed by Prime Minister Modi is causing a dangerous divide amongst religious groups in India. But the passion behind the protests seems to be fighting back to maintain a unified nation. 

by Isana Raja
Staff Writer

“My lifetime earnings are all but in ashes.” Business owner Mohammed Azad said about when he awoke to find his shop in shambles. The market, located in a Muslim neighborhood of New Delhi, had sustained Azad and his family for years. But now, it has been vandalized and utterly destroyed, leaving behind a legacy of crumbled concrete—  charred and indistinguishable. Residents of the area in the conjoined buildings all had to flee their homes as well, as fire from a tear gas chemical made its way through the street. 

Azad’s story is not an isolated one. For weeks now, many Muslims and their communities face extreme hate-driven violence, from Mosques being destroyed around the world, to Muslim neighborhoods being hit with gasoline bombs, and riots that have turned grotesquely deadly. These horrific events are the result of the backlash that has accompanied the Citizenship Amendment Act, which was passed by the Indian Parliament last year. 

In December of 2019, the Indian Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which amended the Citizenship Act of 1955. This act granted Indian citizenship for refugees and those who fled persecution from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan before December 2014. However, not all refugees were included in this amendment; only religious minorities of the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian faith were allowed to gain citizenship while Muslims were excluded from this act altogether. Dissenters of the amendment deem it as grossly unjust for a number of factors, in addition to the reason for the many current violent protests and backlash against the Indian Government. 

Numerous critics, including the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, denounced the Amendment Act as being overwhelmingly dehumanizing, discriminatory, and unethical. Two main reasons surround this judgment of the Act. The first being that this law is enacting a form of religious persecution against Muslims by excluding them from gaining citizenship. This reflects the current anti-Muslim sentiments that dominate India’s current government; Prime Minister Narendra Modi is notorious for exerting extremist Hindu Nationalist views, aligning with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Hindu Nationalist Party, which currently makes up the majority of the government. Modi is a controversial figure in the political realm and many see his popularity in India akin to that of Trump in America. Modi and the Parliament’s defense to this backlash is that since Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh are Islamic countries, Muslims cannot be religiously persecuted there, and therefore should be exempt from protection under the CAA. However, this is not true, as certain Muslim sects, such as the Ahmadis and the Hazaras, have faced religious persecution in these countries and this law does not protect them. Furthermore, India is home to 172 million Muslims, which is 14 percent of the total population of India. These current Muslim citizens are under threat of their Indian citizenship being challenged— a dilemma that is exacerbated by the fact that Muslim refugees and asylum seekers do not receive any protection from persecution. But the consequences of the CAA do not stop at exclusively harming Muslims. Only those fleeing from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh are protected, whereas the majority of asylum seekers in India are the Rohingya from Myanmar, Tamils from Sri Lanka, and Tibetans from China. Various critics have noted that without including these countries in protections, religious and ethnic persecution will continue to run rampant, contradicting the act’s supposed goal of protection against exactly that. Then again, is the true goal of the amendment act really to combat religious persecution? For it seems that it does the exact opposite: acting as a tool to exacerbate pure oppression and Islamophobia.

Picture of Muslim-Indian girl protesting the Citizenship Act Amendment. Source: The Indian newspaper Haaretz.

As Azad shuffles through the rubble left of his house and shop, he criticizes the Indian federal army and government, who haven’t been doing their jobs protecting Muslim residents in North India during this tense period of attacks and protests. Initially, protests and backlash against the CAA were peaceful, taking the forms of sit-ins, candlelight vigils, and public readings of the preamble to the Indian Constitution. However, embodying India’s history of Gandhi-like forms of protest only lasted a few months before turning bloody. The lack of initiative the government took in terms of quelling or even so much as addressing the situation managed to provoke violence. Clashes between Muslims and Hindus chanting “Jai Shri Ram” have been cropping up all over northern India, resulting in dozens of injuries and even deaths. Delhi is bleeding, and the government is not doing anything about it.  The climate in India is becoming increasingly hostile. Many experts warn that this act will deepen the divide between India’s majority Hindus and minority Muslims, in turn heightening hate crimes and the already problematic marginalization of Muslims that have been growing under the leadership of Modi and the BJP. However, there is hope found in pockets of resistance worldwide. Behind the scenes have been many nameless heroes, fighting to keep the unity between Hindus and Muslims. Furthermore, groups in America, such as Students Against Hindutva, the Muslim Student Association, and the Sikh Student Association, have joined forces at various colleges to protest Modi and his harmful Hindu nationalist ideologies. Many have come to deem the CAA as a global human rights violation, in hopes of putting pressure on Modi and the government to change their trajectory down a violent path to a more sustainable, peaceful future.

Featured image courtesy of The India Times.

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