CAA: India to implement immigration law that excludes Muslims

  • Nikila Henry in Delhi and Kathryn Armstrong in London
  • BBC News

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Hindus in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan can also get citizenship

The Indian government has announced plans to enact a controversial citizenship law that has been criticized as anti-Muslim.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) will allow non-Muslim minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to acquire citizenship.

Officials say it will help victims of harassment.

The law was passed in 2019 – sparking mass protests in which scores of people died and many were arrested.

The country's Home Minister Amit Shah said that the rules were not framed in the wake of the unrest, but now they are.

In an announcement on social media on Monday, he wrote, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given another promise and fulfilled the promise of our Constitution makers to the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians living in those countries.” .

Eligible people can apply for Indian citizenship online, the Ministry of Home Affairs of India said in a statement. An online portal for receiving applications has already been set up.

The ministry said there were “many misconceptions” about the law and its implementation was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This Act is only for those who have been persecuted for years and have no shelter in the world except India,” it added.

Ahead of this year's general election, implementation of the CAA was one of the key election promises of Mr Modi's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It amends the 64-year-old Indian Citizenship Act, which currently prevents illegal immigrants from becoming Indian citizens.

As per the new law, citizenship applicants will have to prove that they came to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan by December 31, 2014.

The Government of India has not announced the date when this law change will come into effect.

As BJP leaders have been hinting for the implementation of the law before the elections for the past few months, Monday's announcement did not surprise many. After the announcement, the BJP has been handling trending hashtags online like “Jo Gaha So Kiya” (We did what we said).

Meanwhile, protests against the CAA have erupted in some states, including Assam, where the All Assam Students' Union (AASU), which led protests in the northeastern state in 2019, called for a shutdown on Tuesday.

The ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) party in the southern state of Kerala has called for statewide protests. “This [the law] Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the Act will not be implemented in his state, saying it “divides people, incites communal feelings and subverts the fundamental principles of the Constitution.”

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In 2019, the country saw massive protests against the law

Critics of the CAA say it is exceptional and violates the secular principles in the Constitution that prohibit discrimination against citizens on the basis of religion.

For example, the new law does not cover those fleeing persecution in non-Muslim majority countries, including Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka.

There are concerns that the CAA could be used as a way to persecute the country's 200 million Muslims, when combined with the proposed National Register of Citizens.

Some Indians, including those living near India's borders, worry that the law could lead to a surge in immigration.

Monday's announcement did not go down well with the opposition, who accused the government of trying to influence the upcoming election.

It is expected to take place by May, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is re-elected for a third consecutive term.

“After several extensions over four years, it was [the law’s] The implementation two or three days before the election announcement shows that it is being done for political reasons,” All India Trinamool Congress president Mamata Banerjee told a press conference.

Indian National Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh wrote on social media, “The time taken to announce the CAA rules is yet another proof of the prime minister's blatant lies”.

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi questioned the timing of the move.

“CAA is only intended to target Muslims and will not serve any other purpose,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

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