The lower house of the Indian parliament, Lok Sabha, passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) on Monday which lets India grant citizenship to non-Muslim minorities fleeing persecution in neighbouring Muslim countries.
After 12 hours of deliberations, the bill was approved 311 to 80 votes by the Lok Sabha and moves onto the upper house, the Rajya Sabha, where a favourable vote will ratify the CAB to be recognised as law.
The heavily disputed bill will be established to give citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Sikhs and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
There were widespread protests in the north-eastern states of the country in objection to the passing of the bill, which intentionally omits Muslims and has been blasted by opposition parties as being “fundamentally unconstitutional”. It is the first time India has passed a bill where faith is a criteria for citizenship and critics have condemned it for being deeply discriminatory.
The CAB comes amid a push for a National Citizenship Register (NCR) proposed by Home Minister Amit Shah, which aims to carry out a national count of citizens to root out illegal immigrants. He promised with the NCR "each and every infiltrator is identified and expelled from India" by 2024. Critics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have pointed out that this is the latest ploy in the BJP agenda to specifically target Muslim minorities and render them stateless.
Shah was quick to defend the bill, stating that “under the principle of reasonable classification, citizenship can be granted and there is no violation of Article 14”.
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi also praised the passage of the bill. He tweeted “Delighted that the Lok Sabha has passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 after a rich and extensive debate. I thank the various MPs and parties that supported the Bill. This Bill is in line with India’s centuries old ethos of assimilation and belief in humanitarian values.”
Meanwhile, the US International Commission on Religious Freedom described the Bill’s passage as “deeply disturbing” and considered recommending sanctions against Mr Shah and his associates.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) MP Dayanidhi Maran also expressed his concern at the alienation of minorities from Sri Lanka. “This is a “half-hearted” Bill which has completely ignored Sri Lankan Tamils. The government is preoccupied with its hatred for Muslims,” he said.
Actor turned politician Kamal Hassan also joined the criticism, tweeting, “Why are Tamils who are subjected to a methodic genocide and Muslims facing discrimination, be excluded from the bill?”
“If it’s a genuinely benevolent bill and not a vote garnering exercise, then why won’t this CAB stop to pick up stranded Tamils & troubled Muslims of Srilanka?,” he added.
Critics are fearful of the bill and highlight that Mr Modi has always yearned for India to be a Hindu nation with his reign seeing increased anti-Muslim sentiment and heavy circulation of Hindu nationalism across the nation.