Human Rights Watch calls on India to repeal divisive citizenship law

Updated Apr 12 2020

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Demonstrators hold placards during a protest against a new citizenship law, in New Delhi, India, on December 24, 2019. — Reuters
Demonstrators hold placards during a protest against a new citizenship law, in New Delhi, India, on December 24, 2019. — Reuters

WASHINGTON: A prominent international watchdog has called on India to repeal its discriminatory new citizenship law and policies, saying they threaten the rights of millions of Indian Muslims and have instilled fear among the country’s largest minority group and other communities.

In an 82-page report, Shoot the Traitors: Discrimination Against Muslims Under India’s New Citizenship Policy, the Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, together with a planned nationwide verification process to identify “illegal migrants”, can threaten the citizenship rights of millions of Indian Muslims.

The report also noted that “statements from the home minister and other BJP leaders have raised fears that millions of Indian Muslims, including many whose families have lived in the country for generations, could be stripped of their citizenship rights and disenfranchised”.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in December 2019 adopted the controversial Act, which for the first time makes religion a basis for citizenship.

Evidence shows police complicity in Delhi violence leaving 50 dead

The HRW also stated in its report that police and other officials had repeatedly failed to intervene when government supporters attacked those protesting the new citizenship policies.

“The police, however, have been quick to arrest critics of the policy and disperse their peaceful demonstrations, including by using excessive and lethal force,” the report added.

“Government policies have opened the door for mob violence and police inaction has instilled fear among Muslims and other minority communities throughout the country,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW South Asia director.

HRW reminded India that the United Nations and a number of governments had publicly criticised the citizenship law as discriminatory on the basis of religion.

The report also noted that in Febru­ary 2020 in Delhi, communal clashes and Hindu mob attacks on Muslims resulted in more than 50 deaths. “Witness accounts and video evidence show police complicity in the violence,” the report said, adding that at least 30 people, mostly Muslims, were killed during protests in BJP-governed states, particularly in Uttar Pradesh.

The HRW report said that India’s National Register of Citizens had already left nearly two million people at risk of arbitrary detention and statelessness in Assam. “Women, who are more likely than men to lack access to documentation, were disproportionately affected.”

The Foreigners Tribunals, which decides citizenship in Assam, were targeting Muslims and a much greater proportion had been declared foreigners as compared with Hindus, including those who served in the Indian military, the report added.

HRW urged the Indian government to “repeal the amendment and ensure that any future national asylum and refugee policy does not discriminate on any grounds”.

Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2020