Students and political activists across India have come out in force to peacefully protest against a polarised and much-heated controversial new citizenship law based on religion that critics say is being championed by the right-wing BJP government in conflict with India’s founding as a secular republic writes ISMAEEL NAKHUDA.

Social media has been ablaze over the weekend with images and video clips of police brutality against student protesters at Jamia Millia Islamia University in the capital New Delhi on Sunday. Officers could be seen entering the university campus, baton-charging students and firing tear gas. 

At least 100 people were injured in the clashes there and dozens detained.

There were similar scenes at the Aligarh Muslim University in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where police also clashed with protesters who have been peacefully marching against the law.

The police action has fuelled allegations that the government is using heavy-handed tactics to put down protests, especially at universities that are predominantly Muslim.

Hundreds of activists and students also gathered outside the New Delhi police headquarters on Sunday to protest against the brutality and the detention of students.

What are the protests about?

India is home to 200 million Muslims and, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have faced threats to their status. Most recently there has been a change in the political status of Kashmir and the one-sided court ruling relating to Babri Masjid.

These protests follow a controversial law that has recently been passed – the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which turns religion into a means of deciding who to treat as an illegal immigrant and who should be fast-tracked for citizenship.

On the face of it, the bill does seem like a good move. However, Muslims have been left out and this is no coincidence. The act is linked to another contentious piece of document called the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which is India’s effort to identify and remove illegal immigrants in the north-eastern state of Assam. 

Asian Image:

Protesters opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act, a new law that grants Indian citizenship based on religion and excludes Muslims, throw stones at police at Santragachi in Howrah district of West Bengal state, India, Saturday, Dec.14, 2019. (AP Photo).

Though the NRC was originally proposed as an anti-immigrant measure, the right-wing government soon gave it an anti-Muslim sentiment – the BJP government claims there are many Muslims living in Assam who are from Bangladesh and therefore illegal though they have been there for generations. 

The outcome, however, was not what they were expecting. Out of the 2 million people who were left out of the register, many of them turned out to be Hindus.

Everyone affected—both Hindu and Muslim—have been given limited time to prove their right to citizenship otherwise they will be rounded up into mass detention camps and then deported. 

Clearly this was not what the BJP intended and so they passed the Citizenship Amendment Act which means that religious minorities such as Hindus and Christians in neighbouring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who have settled in India prior to 2015 will have a path to Indian citizenship on grounds they faced persecution in those countries.

At present, the issue only affects 2 million people in Assam. 

However, the BJP government’s Home Minister, Amit Shah, has said the NRC will be roll out across the country. In a country where people often do not have documentation or documentation that is peppered with mistakes and so prone to being rejected, the nation-wide roll-out will affect millions. 

Muslims stripped of their citizenship will end up in massive detention camps, sparking a major refugee crisis, something that the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and the US Commission on International Religious Freedom have warned could soon turn into a humanitarian disaster.