World News

India: Citizenship Bill Discriminates Against Muslims

New York) – The Indian government’s proposed law to grant citizenship based on religion violates India’s international legal obligations, Human Rights Watch said today. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 protects only the rights of non-Muslim irregular immigrants from the neighboring Muslim-majority countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

The bill passed the lower house of parliament on December 9 and will be introduced in the upper house on December 11. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has sought to justify singling out non-Muslim migrants by claiming that the proposed law will give sanctuary to religious minorities fleeing persecution in neighboring countries.

“The Indian government’s claim that the citizenship law aims to protect religious minorities rings hollow by excluding Ahmadiyya from Pakistan and Rohingya from Myanmar,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia. “The bill uses the language of refuge and sanctuary, but discriminates on religious grounds in violation of international law.”

The bill reflects many other policies promoted by the BJP government that favor majority Hindus at the expense of Muslims, such as the failure to properly prosecute party supporters implicated in attacks on religious minorities. The government has also deported Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar despite the risks to their lives and security.

BJP politicians have also demonized Muslim immigrants and asylum seekers, including calling them “infiltrators,” to gain electoral support. For instance, in September 2018 at an election rally in Delhi, Home Minister Amit Shah said “illegal immigrants are like termites and they are eating the food that should go to our poor and they are taking our jobs. They carry out blasts in our country and so many of our people die,” referring to Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh. He promised that, “if we come to power in 2019, we will find each and every one and send them away. Action against them should not worry any patriot.”

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make irregular immigrants from Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, and Zoroastrian communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan eligible for citizenship, but excludes Muslims. The government makes a distinction between Muslims, who it says have immigrated illegally, and “refugees” – namely Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains trying to escape persecution in their country of origin. Defending the bill in parliament, Shah said, “There is a fundamental difference between a refugee and an infiltrator. This bill is for refugees.”

In January, several opposition lawmakers, part of the joint parliamentary committee that reviewed the bill, concluded that it violates articles 14 and 15 of the Indian constitution, which guarantee the right to equality and non-discrimination.

Human Rights Watch:

Related Articles

Back to top button