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Christian leaders decry India's clampdown on CAA protesters

Citizenship law is divisive and discriminates against Muslims, government is told

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Christian leaders decry India's clampdown on CAA protesters

Muslims in New Delhi demonstrate against the citizenship law change. (ucanews photo)

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Christian leaders from different denominations in India have condemned the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 and the state violence unleashed on youth and activists protesting the legislation’s targeting of a single community.

Some 200 leaders including philosophers, theologians, former officials, academics and lawyers condemned the brutal repression by police and paramilitary forces of peaceful democratic protests by youth and students of various cities and universities.

“We express our solidarity with the students and others who have been grievously injured and pray for their speedy recovery,” they said in a Dec. 21 statement.

The statement said since the election of the new government in May 2019, “there have been several controversial laws passed by the parliament that led to the collapse of the democratic institutions of India which have been carefully and painstakingly built by enlightened leaders over the last seven decades.”

It said the CAA that passed in parliament militates against the constitution. The president, prime minister, chief justice of India, members of parliament and the Council of Ministers are sworn to defend the constitution.

The new law is deeply divisive, discriminatory and violative of human rights, the statement said. In particular, this legislation discriminates against Muslim communities who constitute over 14 percent of the population of India and is totally unacceptable in a secular, democratic republic.

“The letter and spirit the of the constitution, framed by men and women who had participated in the freedom struggle, cannot be thrown out at the whims of a particular ideology. We are deeply saddened at the haste in which the president of India gave his assent,” the statement added.

The new law seeks to amend the 1955 Indian Citizenship Act to giving citizenship to illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, if they are not Muslims. The bill also relaxes the requirement of residence in India from 11 years to six years for these migrants.

The 64-year-old citizenship law prohibits illegal migrants from becoming Indian citizens. It defines illegal immigrants as foreigners who enter India without a valid passport or travel documents or stay beyond the permitted time. Illegal immigrants can be deported or jailed.

Escaping persecution

The government said these minority groups have come escaping persecution in Muslim-majority nations. However, the bill does not protect all religious minorities, nor does it apply to all neighbours.

The Ahmedia Muslim sect and even Shias face discrimination in Pakistan. Rohingya Muslims and Hindus face persecution in Myanmar, while Hindu and Christian Tamils are persecuted in Sri Lanka.

The government contends that Muslims can seek refuge in Islamic nations.

Effectively, the CAA ringfences Muslim identity by declaring India a welcome refuge to all other religious communities. It seeks to legally establish Muslims as second-class citizens by providing preferential treatment to other groups, critics of the law says.

The amended law violates the basic tenant of the constitution--right to equality of all citizens, the Christian leaders. Yet the government maintains that it does not discriminate or violate the right to equality.

The Christians' statement said the CAA has to be seen in the light of the National Register of Citizenship (NRC), an attempt to target Muslims under the guise of identifying illegal immigrants.

All these are aimed at polarising communities in the name of religion, excluding minorities and making a majoritarian, theocratic hegemony, they said.

“We humbly appeal to all political parties and members of parliament to hear the cries of the citizens of India who have elected them and repeal the CAA 2019, scrap the pan-India NRC and stop the construction of detention camps,” the statement said.

The signatories include Jesuit head Father George Pattery, philosopher Father TK John, human rights activist John Dayal, Evangelical Fellowship of India general secretary Reverend Vijayesh Lal, Indian Social Institute director Father Denzil Fernandez and AC Michael, a former member of Delhi Minorities Commission.

Thousands of people joined fresh protests on Dec. 22, with at least 21 killed in violent protests and police firing since the law was amended on Dec. 11.

The death toll jumped after demonstrations turned violent on Dec. 20 in Uttar Pradesh, leaving at least 11 dead including an eight-year-old boy who was trampled.

Another protester died on Dec. 21 after clashes in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh, as police used tear gas and batons against a stone-pelting crowd.

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