Americas

Canada, US cities critical of India citizenship change

But Canadian government maintains silence on issue

Barry Ellsworth   | 18.07.2020
Canada, US cities critical of India citizenship change

TRENTON, Canada 

Hamtramck city council in the state of Michigan became the fifth city in the United States to denounce India’s new citizen act, saying it discriminates against Muslims, media reported Thursday.  

Canada joined in with New Westminster in the province of British Columbia becoming the first Canadian city to join the chorus opposing the act that allows illegal immigrants of most religions to apply for Indian citizenship but leaves Muslims off the eligibility list. 

The New Westminster council motion, passed July 13, urged the Canadian government to “take a position in opposition” to the controversial Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) that became law in India in January. 

To date the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been mostly silent on the issue. 

"We aren't hearing much from Trudeau," said Indo-Canadian secularist Gurpreet Singh of British Columbia, co-founder of Indians Abroad for a Pluralist India. Singh made the remarks earlier this year as violence flared in Indian cities. "We aren't hearing much even from the south Asian members of his cabinet or his caucus. And it's very unfortunate." 

The Indo-Canadian population in Canada was 1.37 million as of 2016, of a total population of about 36 million, so they represent a significant minority. According to the 2011 census, Muslims make up about 14 per cent of the population of India. 

The CAA has been roundly condemned as discriminatory and has faced fierce opposition in India. 

Hamtramck council noted that India was founded as a secular republic where “all nationalities, ethnicities, races and religious faiths are welcome,” as reported by TwoCircles.net, a non-profit organization that says it represents the marginalized population of India. It is based in Michigan. 

The city has a diverse population, as about 42 per cent of its 22,000 residents are immigrants from Eastern Europe, South Asia, and the Middle East. 

“City council supports its South Asian community irrespective of religion or caste,” the motion noted. 

New Westminster is similarly diverse, with 26,120 of its 71,000 residents identified as visible minorities. 

The motion declared that New Westminster "prides itself on providing a safe and inclusive community for all citizens and residents including the diverse cultures and religions from around the world," reported the Georgia Straight, the Vancouver based publication that is Canada’s largest urban newspaper. 

The CAA, brought in by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, allows six religious minority communities – Christian, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, Hindu and Sikh – to apply for citizenship if they are able to prove they are originally from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh. Muslims cannot. 

And India took particularly harsh action in the state of Kashmir, revoking the section of the constitution that guaranteed special rights to the Muslim majority state of 12.55 million (as of 2011). 

That added to the tension between India and Pakistan, where Islam is by far the main religion. Both countries claim Kashmir, but India rules. 

In Canada, 215,000 people are of Pakistani origin, as of 2017. There are only about 3,000 Canadians of Kashmiri descent as of 2016.

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