Asia - Pacific

Sri Lanka's Tamils renounce India’s new citizenship law

India setting bad trend for other countries to emulate with controversial law, says Tamil expert

Munza Mushtaq   | 18.12.2019
Sri Lanka's Tamils renounce India’s new citizenship law

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka

As protests rage across India, minority Tamils in Sri Lanka also came out strongly against India’s controversial citizenship law, saying it openly “discriminates” Muslims. 

Citing the harassment of minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, the Indian parliament on Dec. 11 amended its citizenship law, offering citizenship rights to Hindu, Buddhist, Sikhs, Christian, Parsi and Jain communities migrating from these countries. The law, however, excluded Muslims, triggering mass protests across the country.

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, an expert from the Tamil stronghold in Sri Lanka, sadi with the latest move "Indian government attempts to make India a non-secular state" and argued that it is not only a bad trend but also a bad influence on other countries in the region.

“India has always been a secular state, but this government is trying to change this," said Sarvananthan, founder of the Point Pedro Institute of Development in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province. "If India tries to follow such narrow-minded policies, then other smaller states too can follow it,” he told Anadolu agency.

Sri Lankan Tamils account for 12.6% of the 21 million population in the Buddhist majority island. A sizeable percentage of Sri Lankan Tamils are with Indian roots.

India was built on the strong pillars of democracy and inclusiveness, Sarvananthan said, yet for the incumbent Indian government to retract such important yet basic values is not only bad for the country but also for the rest of the South Asian region.

“We saw how Rohingya Muslims were discriminated in Myanmar, so this move can have a bad influence on other countries such as Myanmar or even Nepal.”

Just days since the legislation was passed, several petitions were filed in the Indian Supreme Court challenging the new law.

Aingkaran Kugathasan, a Colombo-based attorney, questioned how the new law supports the Indian state which is secular.

“In a nutshell, I think this is a move particularly targeting one religious group -- Muslims, which is the policy of the [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi government. Other groups are also getting caught in the crossfire,” he told Anadolu Agency.

- Non-Muslims fighting for rights of Muslims

Kugathasan, however, highlighted that it was encouraging to see people fighting against the controversial move by Hindutva forces.

“What is rare in this world is people fighting for the rights of others. It is always the affected party that fights. But in this case, it is encouraging to see people, particularly university students, fighting against the Indian government's move to discriminate one particular community because they don't share the same religious belief,” he said.

Protests by students and others erupted in many universities across India in support of their counterparts at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia after Sunday’s police violence on protesters of the new citizenship law.

Last week, Jeremy Laurence, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that they were “concerned” with India’s amended citizenship law which is “fundamentally discriminatory in nature.”

- ‘Global phenomena of anti-Muslim bigotry’

Gopikrishna Kanagalingam, a communications professional from an international organization of which name he preferred not to reveal, also argued that the law openly discriminates Muslims.

“Even though the Indian government claims that it is for persecuted religious minorities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, the bill didn't include any protection for Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan and or even Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar,” he told Anadolu Agency.

According to Kanagalingam, if the Indian government intended to give protection to persecuted people from its neighboring countries, it could have simply covered all religions, ethnicities, and groups.

“Given this government's track record and the global phenomena of anti-Muslim bigotry, it is not hard to come to a conclusion that this was intended to alienate Muslims,” he said.

Commenting on the countrywide protests, he said such protests were “justified” even though the bill was passed “democratically.”

“Ultimately, sovereignty lies with the people. Hence, when people feel that a particular action by the government is unconstitutional, undemocratic or immoral, they have all the rights to protest,” he added.

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