India: New Citizenship Amendment Bill 'reeks of fear-mongering and bigotry'

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The Citizenship Amendment Bill passed by the Indian Parliament legitimises discrimination on the basis of religion and stands in clear violation of both the constitution of India and international human rights law, Amnesty International India said today.

The Bill amends the Citizenship Act of 1955 to enable irregular migrants to acquire Indian citizenship through naturalisation and registration.

However, it restricts the eligibility to only Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered India on or before 31 December 2014. The Bill also reduces the requirement of residence in India for citizenship by naturalisation from 11 years to five years for these particular communities.

Besides adversely impacting the refugees and asylum seekers, the amendments also impacts on the human rights of Indian citizens - particularly Muslims.

The Government of India is set to start a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC) which will document the citizenship of more than 1.3 billion people in the country.

This exercise was recently concluded in the state of Assam which resulted in the exclusion of more than 1.9 million people. Facing backlash from the Hindus and indigenous communities who were excluded from the NRC, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party rejected the findings of the NRC.

Avinash Kumar, Executive Director of Amnesty India, said:

“The Government of India denies any form of discrimination, but the amendments clearly weaponise the NRC process against Muslims.

“It is difficult to view the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill in isolation and not look at the larger picture where both the amendments and the NRC may deprive minorities of their citizenship in India.

“The amendments also set a dangerous shift in the way citizenship will be determined in India. Worryingly, they also stand to create the biggest statelessness crisis of the world causing immense human suffering.

“Welcoming asylum seekers is a positive step, but in a secular country like India, slamming the door on persecuted Muslims and other communities merely for their faith reeks of fear-mongering and bigotry."

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