18 December 2019   Leave a comment

The Indian Supreme Court refused to rule immediately on the constitutionality of the Citizenship Amendment Act which offered citizenship to persecuted religious minorities in neighboring countries except to Muslims. The passage of the act has led to many protests in states such as Assam which has a large number of Muslims who account for about 14% of the Indian population. Issac Chotiner of the New Yorker conducted an interview with Niraja Gopal Jayal, a professor at the Center for the Study of Law and Governance at Jawaharlal Nehru University. The concerns about the law are deep:

“It introduces, for the first time, a religious criterion as a test for citizenship. Obviously, someone who supports it could argue that it only applies to people who are refugees or illegal migrants—it doesn’t apply to existing Indian citizens. That argument has indeed been made, but I think that it is a threat to the idea of Indian citizenship per se. It is, in some senses, a body blow to the constitutional ideal of equality of citizenship regardless of caste, creed, gender, language, and so on. Ours is a secular constitution, and the worry is that the introduction of the religious criterion will yield, effectively, a hierarchy of citizens, a kind of two-tiered, graded citizenship.

“The even bigger worry is the introduction of religion as a criterion of citizenship in India, because then you open up the floodgates. Like you said, what’s next? If this gets validated in the courts, the next step is that there will be a national register of Indian citizens, for which the law has existed for several years now. That will be activated, and the promise has been made that it will be completed by 2024, which is the next general election. If the Citizenship Amendment Act, which was just passed the other day, is actually enabling some religious groups to become naturalized citizens, leaving out only one major religious group—that is, Muslims—what the National Register of Citizens would do would be to essentially disenfranchise people, including existing Muslim citizens, but Hindus as well who cannot establish, as per the list of documents that may be required, that they are, in fact, Indian citizens.”

We will have to see whether the protests will lead to the revocation of the law. Many students have joined the protests which amplifies their power. The Act threatens the secular character of Indian politics.

Posted December 18, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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