The debate over legislation that would offer religious minorities fleeing Muslim states citizenship on the grounds of “religious persecution” began Monday in India’s Parliament.
The Times of India reported:
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill seeks to provide Indian nationality to six communities – Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists fleeing persecution from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. The bill amends the Citizenship Act, 1955 to make illegal migrants in the select categories eligible for citizenship.
The bill has prompted a loud backlash from India’s Muslim community, lawmakers in which have claimed that, by excluding Muslims from the expansion of citizenship, the lawmakers are attempting to erase the religion from the country. Supporters of the bill argue instead that Muslims from the three nations in question are not fleeing religious persecution in their respective states, so there is no reason to carve out a “religious persecution” exception for them.
On Monday, Home Minister Amit Shah rebutted critics during the debate who claimed the bill was a tool for discrimination against Muslims, according to the Hindustan Times.
“You prove that this bill discriminates against anyone and I will withdraw it,” Shah stated, adding that the law gives rights and does not take them away.
Muslim lawmaker Asaduddin Owaisi railed against the legislation and called it “an insult to India’s freedom fighters,” according to the Times, before ripping a copy of it apart.
“The bill is against the Constitution. It is a conspiracy to make Muslims stateless,” Owaisi said.
India’s foreign ministry defended the citizenship bill in September after critics said it was being used by the country’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to implement a Hindu nationalist agenda. The BJP is openly a Hindu nationalist party under whose tenure many of the religious minorities the bill defends have faced increased persecution in India.
The BJP said the measure was necessary to detect “foreign infiltrators,” according to Breitbart News.
“We respect the fact that our Constituent assembly envisioned a secular state. No one should be discriminated on the basis of religion. But it is also the duty of the state to protect its borders and identify the refugees and intruders,” Shah said Monday.
He also offered sympathy to the minorities who fled their home countries when life became unbearable.
“No one leaves their country easily. No one wants to leave their village,” Shah commented. “But lakhs of people fled their countries out of the anxiety and torment they faced there and now they have been living in India without access to basic facilities like education and health facilities.”
“After this bill, they will get rights and respect,” he concluded.