India Implements Much-debated New Citizenship Law

    16 March 2024

    India has put into effect a new law that makes it easier for non-Muslim minorities to seek Indian citizenship.

    The much-debated law was first approved by India's parliament in 2019. But the government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delayed implementing the measure because of huge protests by groups opposed to it.

    Tens of thousands of people took part in demonstrations against the law shortly after it was approved in December 2019. At the time, news organizations reported at least 23 people were killed during days of protests.

    Students protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Guwahati, India, Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
    Students protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Guwahati, India, Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)

    The law seeks to give Indian citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and other minorities who fled Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan to escape mistreatment based on religion. Muslims are not covered by the law.

    Modi's Hindu nationalist-led government has said the law is designed to ease the suffering of many people who long faced unfair treatment in India. Critics say the measure is a government attempt to marginalize India's 200 million Muslims.

    A message issued by the prime minister's office confirmed the new law had been activated. "The Modi government announces implementation of Citizenship Amendment Act," a spokesperson wrote in a text message.

    The measure is an important policy of Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. The spokesperson said the measure clears the way "for the persecuted to find citizenship in India."

    A statement by the Home Ministry said the law aims to remove legal barriers to citizenship for refugees in order to provide a "dignified life" to those who have long suffered in India.

    The statement added that "many misconceptions" had been spread among the public about the law. "This Act is only for those who have suffered persecution for years and have no other shelter in the world except India," it said.

    The government said citizenship seekers can begin the process by entering their information online through an official website.

    Human rights group Amnesty India criticized implementation of the law, saying it "legitimizes discrimination based on religion."

    Opponents have argued that if the law aims to protect persecuted minorities, it should have included Muslim religious minorities. The critics say these groups – including Ahmadis in Pakistan and Rohingyas in Myanmar – have already faced persecution in their own countries.

    The opposition Communist Party of India – which rules the southern state of Kerala - called for state-wide protests to demonstrate their opposition to the measure.

    Kerala's Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, said in a statement he sees the law leading to more divisions and believes it is not in line with the country's constitution. "This move to stratify Indian citizens who have equal rights, must be opposed unitedly."

    India's 200 million Muslims make up a large minority group in the country's 1.4 billion population. Muslims live in almost every part of the country. They have been targeted in a series of attacks since Modi first came to power in 2014.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    The Associated Press and Reuters reported this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    implement – v. to start using a plan, law or system

    marginalize – v. to treat someone or something like they are not important

    persecute – v. to treat someone poorly or unfairly

    dignified – adj. something controlled, serious and calm that deserves respect

    misconception – n. an idea that is wrong because it is based on a failure to understand a situation

    legitimize – v. to make something legal or acceptable

    stratify – v. to arrange different part of something in separate parts of groups