Demonstrations flare in India over ‘divisive’ asylum bill

Activists of Students' Federation of India (SFI) burn the effigies of India's Prime Minister and Chief Minister of Assam in Guwahati on January 8, 2019 after India's lower house passed today legislation that will grant citizenship to members of certain religious minorities but not Muslims. (AFP)
Updated 09 January 2019

Demonstrations flare in India over ‘divisive’ asylum bill

  • Congress claims Citizenship (Amendment) Bill will lead to widespread unrest
  • Minorities are persecuted in Pakistan and other neighboring countries

NEW DELHI: India’s parliamentary lower house on Tuesday passed a controversial bill that gives non-Muslim communities from neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh citizenship rights despite strong dissent from opposition parties. 

The opposition called the bill “an attack on the core of the Indian constitution.”

The bill was passed on a day when all seven northeastern states were brought to a standstill by protests over the proposed legislation. 

“The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is not for Assam alone or for the betterment of migrants coming from a particular country,” the Home Minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament.

“This bill is also for migrants who have come from the western borders and have settled down in Rajasthan, Punjab, New Delhi and Rajasthan,” he said.

“Minorities are persecuted in Pakistan and other neighboring countries. They have faced violence. The bill offers security to persecuted minorities.”

The bill will grant citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who fled religious persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and entered India before Dec. 31, 2014. 

However, the opposition Congress Party walked out of Parliament, saying the bill was discriminatory and against the spirit of the constitution.

“The bill will lead to unrest not only in Assam but also in several parts of India,” Mallikarjun Kharge, the party’s parliamentary leader, said.

Saugata Roy, a senior opposition leader with the Trinamool Congress based in West Bengal, condemned what he described “as the most diabolical and divisive bill of the past 70 years.”

“Muslims are not included among the six religions mentioned in the bill. Make it secular. Anyone who comes out of religious persecution should be included if they seek asylum in India,” he said.

While Parliament debated the contentious bill, protests brought states in India’s northeast to a near standstill after student organizations and civil rights groups demanded an 11-hour shutdown.

Assam was worst affected by the strike with some street protests descending into violence. The call for the shutdown was made by the All Assam Student Union (AASU) and several civil rights groups.

“The overwhelming response to the call for the strike shows how agitated the people of Assam are over the Citizenship Bill,” said Sammujal Bhattacharya, an adviser to the AASU.

“The bill is sectarian and communal in nature. In India, citizenship cannot be decided on the basis of religion. We will fight with all that we have,” he said.

Bhattacharya said the Assam accord of 1985 fixed the cut-off date for granting citizenship to people who entered India from Bangladesh as March 1971, and any attempt to tamper with the deadline would be met with resistance.

The BJP government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, introduced the bill in 2016. 

Critics say that by amending the Citizenship Act, the BJP wants to protect Bengali Hindus who have come from Bangladesh while ignoring Muslims.

Rezaul Karim Sarkar, of the AASU, claimed the bill “will disturb communal harmony in Assam. It will incite violence between Hindu and Muslim. The BJP is aiming at the 2019 elections and wants to win on the basis of religious violence.”

However, the Bengali United Forum of Assam said the bill will help Hindu Bengalis “live a respectable life.”

Mahananda Sarkar Dutta, the forum’s chief coordinator, said: “We are not part of the BJP or any political party. The people of Assam should not blame us for the bill. Other communities will also benefit,” he said.

Preachers of Hate: Arab News launches series to expose hate-mongers from all religions

Updated 25 min 52 sec ago

Preachers of Hate: Arab News launches series to expose hate-mongers from all religions

  • Daesh may be defeated, but the bigoted ideas that fueled their extremism live on
  • Campaign could not be more timely, with a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes since Christchurch attacks

RIYADH: Dozens of Daesh militants emerged from tunnels to surrender to Kurdish-led forces in eastern Syria on Sunday, a day after their “caliphate” was declared defeated.

Men filed out of the battered Daesh encampment in the riverside village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border to board pickup trucks. “They are fighters who came out of tunnels and surrendered today,” Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesman Jiaker Amed said. “Some others could still be hiding inside.”

World leaders hail Saturday’s capture of the last shred of land controlled by Daesh in Syria, but the top foreign affairs official for the semi-autonomous Kurdish region warned that Daesh captives still posed a threat.

“There are thousands of fighters, children and women and from 54 countries, not including Iraqis and Syrians, who are a serious burden and danger for us and for the international community,” Abdel Karim Omar said. “Numbers increased massively during the last 20 days of the Baghouz operation.”

 While the terrorists have a suffered a defeat, the pernicious ideologies that drive them, and the hate speech that fuels those ideologies, live on. For that reason Arab News today launches Preachers of Hate — a weekly series, published in print and online, in which we profile, contextualize and analyze extremist preachers from all religions, backgrounds and nationalities.

In the coming weeks, our subjects will include the Saudi cleric Safar Al-Hawali, the Egyptian preacher Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the American-Israeli rabbi Meir Kahane, the Yemeni militia leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, and the US pastor Terry Jones, among others.

The series begins today with an investigation into the background of Brenton Tarrant, the Australian white supremacist who shot dead 50 people in a terrorist attack 10 days ago on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Tarrant is not just a terrorist, but is himself a Preacher of Hate, author of a ranting manifesto that attempts to justify his behavior. How did a shy, quiet boy from rural New South Wales turn into a hate-filled gunman intent on killing Muslims? The answers may surprise you.

Our series could not be more timely — anti-Muslim hate crimes in the UK have soared by almost 600 percent since the Christchurch attack, it was revealed on Sunday.

The charity Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), which records and measures anti-Muslim incidents, said almost all of the increase comprised “language, symbols or actions linked to the Christchurch attacks.”

“Cases included people making gestures of pointing a pistol at Muslim women and comments about British Muslims and an association with actions taken by the terrorist in New Zealand,” the charity said.

“The spike shows a troubling rise after Muslims were murdered in New Zealand,” said Iman Atta, director of Tell MAMA. “Figures have risen over 590 percent since New Zealand in comparison to the week just before the attack.