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UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
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India

India's move against illegal migrants to hit indigenous people

Women's groups including Catholic nuns are pushing for changes to legal measures that they say will make millions stateless

UCA News reporter, New Delhi

UCA News reporter, New Delhi

Updated: February 24, 2020 01:23 AM GMT
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India's move against illegal migrants to hit indigenous people

Leaders of women's groups working among poor sections of people meet Indian politician Sharad Pawar on Feb. 17 to seek his intervention in western Indian Maharashtra state to reject a controversial citizenship law. (Photo supplied) 

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Three controversial measures aiming to push out illegal immigrants from India will see many indigenous people ending up in detention camps, says a group of women including Catholic nuns.

The women, mostly working among vulnerable sections of society, submitted a memorandum to senior Indian politician Sharad Pawar on Feb. 17 as part of their campaign against the laws that the federal government is bent on implementing.

Ignoring opposition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remains determined to implement the National Population Register (NPR), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

“I work among abandoned children, especially girls in Mumbai. If the laws are implemented in their current form, my children will become stateless as they do not have any documents to prove their nationality,” said Sister Annie Fernandes, a member of the Society of Poor Sisters of Our Lady.

She was among some 30 women who met Pawar seeking his intervention to stop the government from implementing the measures.

The CAA aims to grant citizenship to illegal migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan if they are not Muslims. The other two measures connected with population registration are also suspected to be methods that identify and isolate religious or ethnic minorities.

Rights groups suspect all Indians will be asked to produce documents to prove their citizenship, and those who fail will be deemed migrants. Non-Muslims among them will be granted citizenship under the CAA, but Muslims will be forced into detention camps.

Millions of socially poor Dalit and tribal people have no documents and face the threat of landing in detention centers or at least temporarily being stamped as illegal migrants, having no rights in their own land.

Sister Annie Fernandes said her children “don’t have even a birth certificate.” 

Changes sought in the law

The women want the government to change some clauses that discriminate against people, particularly the poor.

“The poorest and marginalized of all faiths would be affected” because they will lack documents, said Brinelle Elizabeth, a women leader connected with the Forum of Justice Coalition of Religious.

“The Christian community has rejected these measures as unconstitutional, discriminatory and divisive and pitting minorities against each other,” she told UCA News after meeting Pawar.

Daphne Viveka, who works among Christians in the western state of Maharashtra, told UCA News that “if the government goes ahead, hundreds of natural citizens of this country will be stateless and will end up in detention camps, at least temporarily for no fault of theirs.”

“I have personally come across many indigenous families who do not have any documents to prove their citizenship,” said Viveka, a member of Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Elizabeth maintained that unless these controversial laws are not withdrawn, peace will be elusive in the country.

The women urged Pawar to influence the Maharashtra state government to oppose the controversial laws openly. Maharashtra is one of the states where the BJP is not in power, and Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party is a major partner in the state coalition.

The worst victims of these moves are indigenous people, Dalits, wandering tribes and other illiterate and vulnerable groups, said Salesian Sister Rosaline Pereira, another member of the delegation. “Under these circumstances, they all will become stateless,” she said.

The fear and confusion have pushed thousands, mostly Muslims, on to the streets in protests. At least 30 people have died in clashes with police and riots linked to citizenship laws across India.

Protests continue in many state-owned universities including Jawaharlal Nehru University, Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia. Live sit-ins are taking place in state capitals including Shaheen Bagh in Delhi.

Protesters say the citizenship changes are part of the federal government's policy to turn India into a Hindu-only nation in line with the BJP’s ideology.

More than 150 petitions have been filed against the government moves in the Supreme Court, the top court in the country.

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