The lower house of the Indian parliament last night passed a controversial bill which will grant citizenship to minorities, except Muslims, fleeing persecution in neighbouring countries.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill was cleared by the Lok Sabha after nearly 12 hours of heated discussions, with 311 voting in favour and 80 against.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed delight over the passage of the bill, saying the proposed law is in line with India’s centuries old ethos of assimilation and belief in humanitarian values.
According to the bill, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who took refuge in India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014, facing religious persecution in those countries, will not be treated as illegal immigrants but be given Indian citizenship, reports Times of India.
Earlier in the day, Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the bill in the lower House. The House voted on the introduction of the bill with 293 MPs voting yes, 82 MPs voting no.
Hundreds of people in Assam and Kolkata staged protests and marched against the proposed bill yesterday after Shah tabled the bill.
The bill is not in violation of constitutional provisions, Shah told the lower House. “It will give relief to people living a painful life after facing persecution in neighbouring countries,” he said.
Claiming that the bill was “worse than Hitler’s laws”, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi tore a copy of the legislation in the midst of a heated debate yesterday.
“It is an attempt to divide the nation. The proposed law is against our country’s constitution,” he declared.
In his address to the Lok Sabha, the AIMIM chief also said that Gandhi gained the title “Mahatma” after he tore the discriminatory citizenship card in South Africa, and there was no reason why he should not do the same with the Citizenship Amendment Bill.
Owaisi also accused the BJP-led government of insulting the country’s freedom fighters by trying to marginalise Muslims, and wondered why it was not concentrating its efforts on retaking parts of the country under foreign occupation instead, reported NDTV online.
“Are you afraid of China?” he asked, in a reference to the neighbouring country’s encroachment in Arunachal Pradesh.
Ruling party members described his act as an “insult” to the parliament.
Congress leader from Assam Gaurav Gogoi told the House: “I vehemently oppose the bill. The Home Minister should apologise to the one lakh Gurkhas who defend our borders and found themselves out of NRC.”
“This is against article 14, article 15, article 21, article 25 and 26 of the Indian constitution. This bill is unconstitutional and against basic right of equality”, Congress leader Manish Tewari told the House.
AIUDF leader Badruddin Ajmal said, “We want the government to take this bill back. It is against Assam, Constitution and unity of Hindus and Muslims. It is the government’s divide and rule policy.”
Sukhbir Singh Badal of Shiromani Akali Dal says his party backs the bill.
He talked about the horrors of partition, the minorities who stayed back in Pakistan and how some were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam, in line with the majority community. He said Sikhism embraces secularism.
“This bill is going to protect the Sikh community,” he said before signing off.
PROTESTS OVER BILL
Student groups called for dawn-to-dusk shutdown in four districts in Assam yesterday. Shops, businesses, educational and financial institutions remained shut and public transport stayed off the roads.
“We will fight and oppose the bill till the last drop of our blood,” All Assam Students’ Union adviser Samujjal Bhattacharya told Reuters, underlining the region’s resistance against migrants amid fears that tens of thousands of settlers from neighbouring Bangladesh would gain citizenship.
In a statement issued yesterday, a group of more than 1,000 Indian scientists and scholars also called for the immediate withdrawal of the bill.
“We fear, in particular, that the careful exclusion of Muslims from the ambit of the bill will greatly strain the pluralistic fabric of the country,” the statement said.
After going through the lower House of parliament, where BJP has a majority, the bill has to be passed by the upper House, where the ruling party lacks enough votes. Any bill needs to be ratified by both Houses of India’s parliament to become law.