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Protests Break Out Over Indian Citizenship Law

Protestors walk past burning tires defying curfew in Gauhati, India, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
Protests Break Out Over Indian Citizenship Law
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The approval of a new citizenship law by India’s parliament led to protests that turned violent in Northeast India.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill would make it easier for non-Muslim minorities from some neighboring countries to seek Indian citizenship.

India’s upper house of parliament passed the bill 125-105 on Wednesday night. It passed the lower house on Monday. The country’s president needs to sign the bill before it becomes law.

Thousands of people in Assam state protested the measure on Wednesday and Thursday.

The law seeks to give Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan because of religious persecution before 2015.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government introduced the bill after an election victory in May. Modi called passage of the bill a “landmark day for India.” He said the law would help ease “the suffering of many who faced persecution for years.”

A demonstrator begs a police officer to allow them to proceed ahead during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Gauhati, India, Dec. 11, 2019.
A demonstrator begs a police officer to allow them to proceed ahead during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Gauhati, India, Dec. 11, 2019.

Protesters warned that the law would open Assam state to a flood of foreign migrants. Critics have also said the measure goes against India’s constitution by not offering protection to Muslims.

Police in Assam’s main city of Guahati fired bullets and tear gas against groups of protesters. Demonstrators burned tires and blocked highways and rail lines in protests that continued even after a curfew was declared.

Some Indian newspaper opinion writers said the law was an effort by Modi’s administration to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims. But Home Minister Amit Shah said when introducing the bill in the upper house that it was not anti-Muslim, because it did not affect the existing path to citizenship available to all communities.

However, the government has said the law will be followed by a citizenship register. This would require Muslims to prove they were original residents of India to receive citizenship consideration.

Several opposition lawmakers who debated the bill in parliament said the legislation will face legal battles in court. “Today marks a dark day in the constitutional history of India,” said Sonia Gandhi of the main opposition Congress party. “Passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill marks the victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces over India’s pluralism,” she added.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press and Reuters. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

persecution n. the treatment of someone unfairly or cruelly because of their race, religion, or beliefs

landmark n. an event that is famous or important in the history of something

marginalize v. to put or keep (someone) in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or group​

original adj. existing since the beginning

bigoted adj. one who considers or treats members of a group (such as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance

pluralism n. the existence in a society of many different types of people with many different beliefs and opinions