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Indian government proposes citizenship for religious minorities, but not Muslims

Critics deem the proposed amendment 'anti-Muslim' [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 December, 2019

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Critics of the move have asked why the Indian government has not offered amnesty to 'illegal migrants' from the persecuted Ahmadi Muslim sect in Pakistan or Rohingya refugees.
India's right-wing government has tabled a bill in parliament that would offer a route to citizenship for illegal migrants from three neighbouring countries - but only for non-Muslims.

The controversial bill, put forward by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), would give amnesty to religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered India without legal documents, the BBC reported.

The government claims the bill is aimed at giving sanctuary to victims of religious persecution.

Critics allege the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) is yet another example of a BJP agenda to marginalise and attack Muslims.

If successful, the CAB will ammend India's citizenship law, which currently prevents illegal migrants from becoming citizens.

Illegal migrants are defined as those who entered India without a valid passport or travel documents, or stay beyond the permitted time.

The new bill also ammends a requirement for foreigners to have lived in India or worked for the government for a minimum of 11 years before gaining citizenship.

Read more: Pondering their future in their own homeland: Muslims fearful in a hate filled India

Under the CAB, members of six religious minorities - Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian - will be allowed to apply for citizenship after living in India or working for the government for just six years, if they can prove they are from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan.

Opponents of the bill claim it violates India's secular constitution and say that faith should not be made a condition of citizenship.

India's constitution prohibits religious discrimination against citizens.

Critics say that, if the bill was genuinely aimed at protecting religious minorities, it would also include Muslim minorities facing persecution in their home countries. Examples include members of the Ahmadi sect in Pakistan and Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. 

The CAB is closely linked to India's National Register of Citizens (NRC), a list of people who can prove they came to the country before Bangladesh became an indepdent nation.

The register controversly omitted two million mostly Muslim residents of India's northern Assam state when it was published in August this year. Now branded as illegal migrants, they are subject to deportation or imprisonment.

The NRC was supported by the ruling BJP in the run-up to its publication, but the party later slammed the list as "error-ridden" as many Bengali Hindus were also left out of the register and slated to become illegal migrants.

The CAB would allow those Bengali Hindus, a strong voter base for the party, to be naturalised.

The bill would also permit authorities to remove the status of holders of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards, which permit foreign citizens of Indian origin to work and live in India, if they break local laws.

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