World, Asia - Pacific

Indian premier claims citizenship law 'not against any religion'

Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi describes new laws, weapons of mass polarization unleashed by fascists

Shuriah Niazi and Riyaz ul Khaliq   | 16.12.2019
Indian premier claims citizenship law 'not against any religion'

NEW DELHI, India / ANKARA, Turkey

As protests against police crackdown in Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia -- a central university -- and new citizenship law, spread in other parts on Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the new law will not affect any religion or any citizen.

"Violent protests on the Citizenship Amendment Act are unfortunate and deeply distressing. Debate, discussion and dissent are essential parts of democracy but, never has damage to public property and disturbance of normal life been a part of our ethos," Modi said in series of tweets.

Defending the new law, he said it was passed by both houses of Indian parliament with overwhelming support. Describing violent protests unfortunate and deeply distressing, Modi said the new law illustrates India’s centuries-old culture of acceptance, harmony, compassion and brotherhood.

Violent protests have erupted at many places across India over the new law, granting citizenship rights to Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis -- excluding Muslims -- from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

The move witnessed massive backlash, particularly in the northeastern part of India, where so far at least five people were killed in police firing.

Protests by students and others have also erupted in the rest of the country, where many critics believe it was a move towards disenfranchising Muslims, the largest minority community in the country.

Police launched massive crackdown on at least two central universities -- Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi and Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh -- where students were holding demonstration against the law.

“I want to unequivocally assure my fellow Indians that citizenship law does not affect any citizen of India of any religion. No Indian has anything to worry regarding this Act. This Act is only for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go except India,” Modi said.

Blaming vested interest groups for creating division and disturbance, the prime minister, said it was time to work together for the development of India and the empowerment of every Indian.

The main opposition Congress party dismissed Modi’s appeal, saying his government has unleashed a weapon of mass polarization, through the citizenship law and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). The NRC makes mandatory for every inhabitant to prove his Indian citizenship.

Critics say, while non-Muslims will be automatically included in the citizenship list even if they are unable to prove their Indian ancestry, according to the new law, Muslims will have to face the brunt in case they fail to prove citizenship for want of documents.

"The Citizenship Act and the NRC are weapons of mass polarization unleashed by fascists on India. The best defense against these dirty weapons is peaceful, non-violent protests. I stand in solidarity with all those protesting peacefully," said Rahul Gandhi, Congress party leader.

His sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also a Congress leader, led a two-hour protest of opposition leaders at the India Gate, war memorial located near central government offices, to show solidarity with the students and against the new citizenship law.

In West Bengal province, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee led a mass protest. She said she will continue her protests until these laws are rolled back.

In a statement, prominent Muslim organization Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) condemned the "brutal police action" on university students.

"There was unprovoked violence perpetrated on innocent students by Delhi Police. The police barged into the library and beat up students indiscriminately and ruthlessly. They entered the mosque, desecrated and vandalized it and hit the students, when they were offering prayers,” the JIH said.

The world human rights watchdog, Amnesty International said the arrest of peaceful protests amounted to violating international law, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

It asked the Indian government to respect the right to dissent by peaceful protestors and review their approach in policing the protests. “Police should only use lethal force in response to an imminent threat of death or serious injury, and only as a last resort,” Amnesty said in a statement.

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