A controversial amendment to India’s citizenship law that discriminates against Muslims goes against the spirit of the country’s Constitution, say human rights activists, church officials and scholars.
The federal Home Minister Amit Shah will introduce the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha (Lower House) on Dec. 9.
The bill seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan escaping religious persecution.
The bill has triggered widespread protests in north-eastern states where indigenous communities believe it will result in an influx of Bengali Hindu migrants.
Civil society groups and academics have expressed “serious concerns” over the bill.
Muslim human rights activist Ovais Sultan Khan said the bill is a direct violation of the Constitution.
“In proposing a bill that intentionally denies citizenship to Muslims, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is mirroring the Nazi’s Nuremberg Laws, which did likewise but for German Jews,” Khan said.
“It is an open attack on the Indian Constitution,” he said.
Some experts say the bill could be a “dangerous divide” which may harm the country’s democratic values.
Dr. Angana P. Chatterji from the University of California, Berkeley, said the bill intends to discriminate against persons of non-Hindu descent. She described it as: “Unethical, unconscionable and dangerous.”
Dr Michael Gonsalves, senior editor at national business daily Financial Chronicle, told LICAS News that there is the possibility of gross misuse of the law and that it will increase sectarian tensions with some people saying they were persecuted in their original countries when they actually weren’t.
“For instance, about 10 percent of Bangladesh’s population is Hindu. If they entered India for better economic opportunities and claim they were being persecuted for being Hindus — this would create tension, division and strife among the Hindus and Muslims in India,” said Gonsalves, former president of Indian Catholic Press Association.
The same would occur if Muslims who came from the three countries changed their faith and claimed persecution to try and gain citizenship.
Church leaders have also criticized the bill.
Dominican Father Francis Arackal, professor of philosophy and media at the Gyandhara Institute of Philosophy in Goa, was critical of the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the bill.
“The BJP is trying to trap the opposition parties with another emotive issue for polarizing voters,” said Father Arackal,
Another priest Victor Ferrao, a professor at the Patriarchal Seminary of Rachol, Goa, agreed with Father Arackal.
“The bill is based on religion … it segregates one particular minority religious community. The bill is based on divide and rule,” Father Ferrao said.
Opposition political parties have expressed concern over the bill, saying it’s an assault on the very idea of the nation.
Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said his party opposed the bill which he called a “violation” of the idea of India.