The passage of a new Citizenship Amendment Bill by India’s Parliament has drawn the ire of the Minority Rights Group International (MRG). The bill introduces a discriminatory regime of citizenship based on religion, which disproportionately impacts the country’s Muslim minority.
MRG is however, a leading international human rights organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. It is working with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.
MRG’s Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, says the changes introduced by the Citizenship Amendment Bill are in violation of both the secular framework of India’s Constitution, as well as human rights law.
According to her, ‘’religious minorities across South Asia face serious persecution and efforts to avail them protection are laudable, yet the selective and discriminatory nature of this Bill sets a dangerous precedent. The government of India has weaponised the language of minority rights in a way that excludes Muslims and is both provocative and divisive.’’
Passed on Wednesday, the Citizenship Amendment Bill makes a number of changes to the Citizenship Act, 1955, including availing “illegal migrants” a path to Indian citizenship through naturalisation. Ostensibly framed as an effort to protect persecuted minorities, application of this new provision is restricted to “any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan, who entered into India on or before the 31st day of December, 2014”.
Continuing, the group said critically, the amendment makes no mention of neighbouring countries where minorities have recently faced serious human rights violations, such as Sri Lanka or Myanmar, where Rohingya Muslims have been subject to ethnic cleaning and genocide.
The bill also excludes Muslim refugees from the designated countries for no clear reason other than their religion, given the well-documented persecution of those such as Ahmadiyyas and Shi’a in Pakistan.
‘’By legally sanctioning discrimination on the basis of religion, this move sends a clear message of exclusion to India’s Muslims’’ says Thomas. ‘’If the authorities in India are truly interested in protecting religious minorities, then they should demonstrate this by ensuring India’s own longstanding Muslim minority community can live peacefully and enjoy their full rights, including citizenship.’’
In August, the widely criticized National Register of Citizens (NRC) process was completed in the Northeastern state of Assam, leaving 1.9 million people at risk of statelessness. It has been followed by a proposal to conduct a countrywide National Register of Indian Citizens.
By dividing populations on the basis of religion, and availing expedited citizenship to non-Muslims, the amendments to the Citizenship Act further exacerbate the divisive dynamics of the National Register of Citizens, increasing the potential disenfranchisement of Muslims in India.
Adding, Thomas said, ‘’considered alongside recent developments, including the disastrous National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in Assam and the proposal to spread that process across the country, this has instilled a sense of fear amongst India’s largest minority group.’’