India Begins Implementation of Discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act 

03/12/2024 India (International Christian Concern) — Four years after being passed by Parliament and signed into law, India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) will now be implemented, according to a government announcement Monday. The move, lauded by the ardent Hindu nationalists making up the core of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s support base, comes as national elections approach next month and Modi seeks an unusual third term. 

Though Indian officials blame COVID for the delay in implementing the CAA, its passage was likely more related to significant public protests at home and abroad. When it was passed in 2019, the bill sparked international outcry for its explicit discrimination based on religion. Clearly at odds with India’s founding as a secular democracy, the bill provides immigrants of certain religions with a clear path to citizenship but excludes Muslims from that list. 

A Powerful Tool for Persecution 

Combined with the practice of citizenship tests, in which officials require current residents to prove that they or their family has lived in India since before 1971, the CAA is a powerful tool not only to exclude potential immigrant Muslims but also to disenfranchise current citizens. Citizenship tests cast a wide net, stripping the rights of citizenship from millions of Hindus, Christians, and Muslims alike. However, the CAA creates loopholes in that net, allowing everyone but Muslims an easy way back in and leaving Muslim citizens stateless. 

While it might be tempting for the uninformed observer to celebrate the CAA as a positive step for non-Muslims, India’s history clearly illustrates that discrimination against Muslims is simply a harbinger of what is to come for members of other minority faiths. Indian Christians, for example, now face many of the same legal challenges formerly targeted at Muslims, and the last two years have seen an increase in mass violence against Christian communities—a pattern of attack formerly reserved for Muslims. 

While Indian officials claim that the CAA is designed to address persecution issues in neighboring countries, it is designed as a vehicle of persecution itself. 

Commenting on the CAA as it made its way through parliament in 2019, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called it “a dangerous turn in the wrong direction” and called for the U.S. to consider sanctions if it were to become law. The U.S. has not, to public knowledge, followed this recommendation in any way despite the clear violation of human rights posed by the law. 

Electoral Plea or Victory Lap? 

As convenient as the timing is for Modi to implement the CAA right before the election, the move may be more of a victory lap than a plea for votes. The polls consistently show he will win the election handily, so he likely does not need to scrape more votes together. And historically, some of his most discriminatory moves against religious minorities have come on the heels of a major election victory. The CAA was originally passed some months after his historic reelection in 2019, and in the months in between he unilaterally demolished the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only state with a non-Hindu majority. 

The law’s hearty welcome by India’s radical Hindu nationalist faction, which Modi proudly leads, is further evidence of its nefarious intent. Well-known nationalist firebrand Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, tweeted his satisfaction with the CAA’s implementation soon after the official announcement, calling it a historic success for the wellbeing of suffering humanity. 

Adityanath is a leading figure in India’s swing toward radical Hindu nationalism. “When I speak, thousands listen,” he told a crowd in 2009. “When I ask them to rise and protect our Hindu culture, they obey. If I ask for blood, they will give me blood. I will not stop until I turn Uttar Pradesh and India into a Hindu Rashtra,” referring to the nationalist concept of a “pure” India of and for Hindus. 

Under Adityanath’s watch, Uttar Pradesh adopted an anti-conversion ordinance in 2020. Since being ratified by the legislature in 2021, it has swiftly turned the state into one of the most dangerous places for Christians in India by empowering mobs to attack people of faith. According to civil society leaders in the state, more than 230 people have been jailed under the law since 2021 and the number continues to climb almost daily. 

In 2020, Uttar Pradesh passed a law criminalizing conversion in an interfaith marriage and imposed a penalty of up to ten years in prison for violating the decree. Under the law, interfaith couples must apply for approval from a magistrate two months in advance of their marriage and may only continue after official authorization. Adityanath has publicly urged the death penalty for religious minorities who convert their spouse from Hinduism. 

This week’s move to implement the CAA comes on the heels of other acts designed to appeal to his nationalist voter base. In January, he consecrated a temple to the Hindu god Ram on the site of a mosque that was violently torn down by Hindu nationalists in 1992. The ceremony marked the culmination of decades of efforts by Hindu nationalists and a serious defeat for the country’s religious minority communities. 

The site of the demolished mosque was long a flashpoint for inter-religious tension, with prominent Hindu leaders including Prime Minister Modi claiming that the mosque—built in the 1500s—had been built over the birthplace of the Hindu deity Ram. Largely because of the conflict, Ram—among the most popular Hindu deities—has become a potent symbol of Hindu nationalism. 

After years of legal battles, the Indian Supreme Court ruled in 2019—just months after Modi’s reelection—that the temple could be built on the site of the razed mosque. 

Declining Religious Freedom Conditions in India 

As outlined in a recent ICC report, India’s Christian population faces significant hurdles, including legal structures that limit them economically and a judicial system that grants impunity to attacking Hindu radicals. 

Under Modi’s leadership, India has steadily declined in democratic and religious freedom. A 2023 U.S. Department of State report on India found that “attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred in various states [across India] throughout the year.” Further, the report discussed the issue of state-level laws that criminalize minority religious activity and highlighted “numerous reports during the year of violence by law enforcement authorities against members of religious minorities in multiple states.” 

Modi was previously banned from entering the U.S. for his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots which left over 2,000 Muslims dead. The Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time, Modi’s public comments and failure to stop the riots led to massive religious violence against Gujarati Muslims. In 2005, the U.S. Department of State determined that his actions amounted to a severe violation of religious freedom, triggering the only known use of the International Religious Freedom Act to sanction a foreign official. 

For interviews, please contact [email protected]. 

The post India Begins Implementation of Discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act  appeared first on International Christian Concern.

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