Protests have erupted in many Indian states against a law that grants citizenship to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from three nearby countries.
The northeastern state of Assam was the first to erupt against the Citizenship Amendment Bill which was passed last week by the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) dominated federal parliament.
Believing that they will be inundated by outsiders, protesting groups in Assam said the bill is a threat to their culture.
The bill aims to make illegal immigrants who are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christians from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan eligible for Indian citizenship but it excludes Muslims from these nations.
A day after passing the law, the government imposed a curfew in Assam and blocked the internet on Dec. 12. Many people deified the government’s orders and came out on the streets to protest which resulted in five people allegedly being shot to death by the police. Amongst them was a 16-year-old Christian boy namely Sam Joseph Staffard who was reportedly shot when he stepped out of his house in the city of Guwahati.
The teenager’s uncle said that Sam left home to take part in the protests on Dec. 12. “There was some stone pelting going on in the area and police reached the spot and started firing indiscriminately at close range. A bullet hit Sam’s face and he died on the spot,” his uncle said.
Spokesperson of United Christian forum of North East India, Allen Brooks said that his organization is filling a formal complaint against the police and will demand a thorough investigation of the incident.
Police say they now have the situation under control in Assam and internet services were restored in that region on Dec. 17.
But protests have also spread to other parts of the country including West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and India’s capital Delhi where clashes between student protestors and police are currently continuing. At least 50 people have been injured in Delhi.
Some church leaders have said the new law is part of a dangerous agenda to make the secular country a Hindu nation.
Allen Brooks, spokesperson of United Christian Forum of North East India, told LICAS News that the new law is fraught with dangerous consequences for the country, especially over its discrimination against Muslims.
“This will erode country’s secular character and will turn it into a nation where Muslims will not be eligible to live,” said Brooks.
A.C. Michael, former member of Delhi Minority Commission and a known Christian leader, said the law is a direct violation of the Indian Constitution which declares people from all faiths as equal.
“There are many Muslims who are also being persecuted in their own countries for speaking against their government and facing arrest and violent attacks from certain extremist groups like the ones faced by a few Catholics like Jesuit priests and nuns of Mother Teresa’s congregation in our country,” Michael said. “Why should they be denied right to seek asylum on the basis of their religion?”
Another Christian leader Rev. Vijayesh Lal, who is also general secretary at Evangelical Fellowship of India, said the law’s singling out a religious group is part of a broader political plan. “This has roused fears among all minorities, tribal people, and Dalits about their future and their status as full citizens,” Lal said.
The 966 million Hindus in India make up 80 percent of the country’s population of 1.3 billion. Muslims account for 172 million (14 percent) while Christians comprise 29 million (2.3 percent).
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