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India Moves Forward with Controversial Citizenship Law

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On March 11th, 2024, just weeks before Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks re-election for a third term, his government announced the implementation rules for a citizenship law that has been highly controversial since its passage in 2019. Critics have labeled the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) as discriminatory and anti-Muslim.

The CAA offers a fast track to Indian citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, and Christians who entered India from neighboring Muslim-majority countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) before the end of 2014, if they claim to have faced religious persecution. Notably, Muslims are excluded from this pathway to citizenship.

This announcement comes after a delay of several years. The initial passage of the CAA in December 2019 sparked widespread protests and violence across India. The Modi government, facing public backlash, had held off on creating the rules for implementing the law.

The government maintains that the CAA is a humanitarian measure, designed to aid religious minorities fleeing persecution. They argue it won’t take citizenship away from anyone, but rather offer a path for those who qualify. They also dismiss the protests as politically motivated.

However, Muslim groups and critics fear the CAA, combined with a proposed national registry of citizens, could be used to discriminate against India’s large Muslim population (estimated at 200 million, the world’s third-largest). They worry that Muslims who lack proper documentation, particularly in border states, could be stripped of their citizenship and rendered stateless.

This move by the Modi government is seen by many as a calculated political maneuver ahead of the upcoming elections. Opinion polls suggest Modi is likely to win re-election, but the CAA announcement could further polarize voters, particularly in states with significant Muslim populations like West Bengal and Assam. These states were at the forefront of the protests against the CAA due to concerns that it could be used to target Muslims and declare them illegal immigrants.

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