Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) passed by the Indian parliament has not only sparked violent demonstrations against it in the North-Eastern states of the country leading to the death of six protestors so far but the legislation has also drawn flak both within India as well at the international level. The Indian intellectuals and legal community within India view it as being essentially anti-Muslim and in violation of the secular principles enshrined in the Indian constitution which prohibits discrimination against its citizens and guarantees all persons equality before the law and equal protection of the law. They maintain that faith cannot be made a condition of citizenship.

Delhi-based lawyer Gautam Bhatia says that by dividing alleged migrants into Muslims and non-Muslims, the bill “explicitly and blatantly seeks to enshrine religious discrimination into law, contrary to our longstanding, secular constitutional ethos”.

Historian Mukul Kesavan says the bill is “couched in the language of refuge and seemingly directed at foreigners, but its main purpose is to de-legitimise the citizenship of Muslims.” Critics also argue that if the bill is genuinely aimed at protecting persecuted minorities in the neighbouring countries as claimed by the Indian government, then it should have also included Muslim religious minorities.

It is pertinent to point out that the anti-Muslim bias of the legislation gains greater currency from the fact that the Indian government has gone to the Supreme Court seeking to deport Rohingya Muslim refugees from India who fled Myanmar due to persecution. It is also maintained by the critics that the National Register of Citizenship published in August which deprived nearly two million Bengali Muslims of Indian Citizenship and the Citizenship Amendment Bill are closely linked because the later will help protect non-Muslim who are excluded from the register and face the threat of deportation of internment. This means tens of thousands of Bengali Hindu migrants who were not included in the NRC can still get citizenship to stay on in Assam state.

Sociologist Niraja Gopal Jaya says, “Taken together, the NRC and CAB have the potential of transforming India into a majoritarian polity with gradations of citizenship rights.” The Indian anti-Muslim legislation pieces have also come under scathing criticism by the international media and global think tanks. 

Financial Times in its editorial of 11 December while commenting on the situation said, “After independence and partition in 1947, India was established on the principle of secular democracy. While Pakistan’s founders defined their country as a homeland for Muslims of the subcontinent’s Muslims, India was not defined by religion but envisaged as a country where diverse faiths could coexist. Now, the so-called Citizenship Amendment Bill, which grants accelerated citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Jain or Buddhist refugees from neighbouring countries, but not Muslims, threatens that history of secularism. It is a milestone in Premier Narendra Modi’s campaign to reshape India into an overtly Hindu nation.”

The New York Times carried an article saying “The upper house of the Indian parliament passed a contentious citizenship bill on Wednesday, bringing a religiously polarising measure one step closer to the law as new protests erupted across the country. The measure, called the Citizenship Amendment Bill, uses religion as a criterion for determining whether illegal migrants in India can be fast-tracked for citizenship. The bill favours members of all South Asia’s major religions except Islam, and leaders of India’s 200-million-strong Muslim community have called it blatant discrimination.”

The Washington Post maintained, “The Lawmakers in India on Wednesday passed a fundamental change to its citizenship law to include religion as a criterion for nationality for the first time, deepening concerns that a country founded on secular ideals is becoming a Hindu state that treats Muslims as second-class citizens. The new legislation creates a path to citizenship for migrants who belong to several South Asian religions but pointedly excludes Islam, the faith practised by 200 million Indian citizens.”

According to Al Jazeera, “The bill brings sweeping changes to India’s 64-year-old citizenship law by giving citizenship to “persecuted” minorities - Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians - from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

The Independent observed, “India’s ruling Hindu nationalist government has won parliamentary approval for a controversial law that would make it easier for refugees of certain faiths from neighbouring countries to gain citizenship, but not Muslims.”

Michael Kugelman, a South Asian expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said, “I think there is some genuine surprise and disappointment that the world’s largest democracy appears to be undercutting its longstanding and fundamental traditions of secularism, democracy and pluralism.” The US Commission on International Religious Freedom called for sanctions to be considered against Indian Home minister Amit Shah over the Citizenship Bill. The commission which advises the US government but does not set policy termed the bill as a dangerous turn in the wrong direction.

A spokesman of the US state department commenting on the bill said: “The US urges India to protect the rights of its religious minorities in keeping with India’s constitution and democratic values.” The Modi government is probably unmindful of the fact that by pursuing the Hindutva philosophy, it is sowing the seeds conflict and strife within its own borders. What it has done in IOK, Assam and beyond could very well prove to be beginning of the end.

The supremacist philosophy of Hindutva like the German Nazism has a destructive potential that could also jeopardise peace and security in our region and beyond. The world has already endured the disastrous consequences of the German Nazism and cannot afford yet another catastrophe of the same magnitude.

Though Pakistan has warned the international community about the dangers lurking in the region because of the pursuance of philosophy of Hindutva and the Indian move to nullify UN resolutions on Kashmir through the repeal of article 370 of the Indian constitution, but it is regrettable that the powers that be blinded by their strategic and commercial interests linked to India and the UN do not realise the scale of the threat to peace and security in this region. Kashmir admittedly is a nuclear flashpoint and the two atomic states standing face to face with each other present a dreadful spectacle for the world peace. The world community and the UN need to realise the consequences of the burgeoning situation before it is too late.