While many around the world rang in the new year with celebrations, thousands in India were continuing protests against the Citizen Amendment Act of 2019, passed on December 11th. Since the passing, which amended the previous Citizenship Act of 1950, protests have raged on across India. The Act makes it easier for religious minorities that had fled from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan before 2015 to gain Indian citizenship. The minorities that will benefit are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Farsis, and Christians; according to the Indian government, Muslims were not included because they are not a minority faith in the specified countries.
Throughout India, protesters have cited different reasons for their anger. Many claim that the Act will lead to increased immigration from neighboring regions and cause a loss of native rights and culture. Others assert that it marginalizes Muslims and goes against India’s constitution, which defines India as a secular nation. Some critics feel that the Act is just a part of a broader plan to slowly remove Muslims from India. The law is also the first time in Indian history that religion was explicitly used as a requirement for citizenship and is considered by many to be unjust, with the United Nations Human Rights Office calling it “fundamentally discriminatory.”
On the other side, the Indian government has tried to quell the protests through both verbal pleas and the deployment of additional police and military forces. Prime Minister Modi announced that the Act would not strip away anyone’s citizenship and is only intended “for those who have faced years of persecution outside and have no other place to go except India.”
As of New Year’s Eve, 27 people across India have died as a result of the protests, including three minors. The protests have become increasingly violent and have no indication of stopping, with countless more gatherings being planned for the next week alone.