Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing renewed criticism after tabling legislation today which will exclude Muslims from an offer of citizenship rights to religious refugees.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill will see nationality defined by religion for the first time in India’s history but only to followers of six faiths – including Christians, Sikhs and Hindus – from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
It will allow them to acquire Indian citizenship if they live or work in the country for six years and are fleeing religious persecution. However, critics argue it is the latest move to discriminate against Muslims.
“[The Bill is] couched in the language of refuge and seemingly directed at foreigners but its main purpose is the de-legitimisation of Muslim citizenship,” said historian Mukul Kesavan.
Hundreds of people took to the streets of Assam, Gujarat and West Bengal today in protest.
“We will fight and oppose the bill till the last drop of our blood,” vowed All Assam Students’ Union adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya.
A group of 1,000 academics released a statement arguing the Bill undermines the pluralistic and secular history of India.
Home Minister Amit Shah dismissed their concerns and said the proposed legislation is backed by India’s 1.3 billion population.
The BJP first proposed the Bill as an electoral promise in 2014 but it was abandoned in 2016 after protests.
This time, MPs in the lower house of parliament voted unanimously in favour of passing the Bill – 293 to 82 – and it will now be voted on in the upper house.
The date for this has not yet been disclosed but it needs approval from both houses for it to become law.
Since his landslide re-election in May, Modi and the BJP have faced repeated claims of anti-Muslim discrimination.
In August, he revoked Muslim-majority Jammu & Kashmir’s autonomous status and the region remains under curfew and an internet blackout.
Later that month he announced 1.9 million people in Assam will face detainment and deportation to Bangladesh.
While Modi claimed it was part of a wider crackdown on illegal immigrants, campaigners say it is an attempt to render Indian Muslims stateless.