Indians demonstrate against ‘divisive’ citizenship bill

India’s eight northeastern states observed a day-long strike against the citizenship bill. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2019

Indians demonstrate against ‘divisive’ citizenship bill

  • The bill, which goes to the upper house on Wednesday, would ensure citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but exclude Muslims

NEW DELHI: Protests erupted across various parts of India on Tuesday, a day after the lower house of Parliament passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) which makes religion the basis for granting Indian citizenship to minorities from neighboring countries. 

The bill, which goes to the upper house on Wednesday, would ensure citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but exclude Muslims.

“After the CAB, we are going to bring in the National Register of Citizens (NRC),” Home Minister Amit Shah said after the passage of the bill. 

The fear among a large section of Indians is that by bringing in the CAB and the NRC — a process to identify illegal immigrants — the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to target Muslim minorities. 

They insist that the new bill protects all other communities except Muslims, who constitute around 14 percent of India’s total population.

The opposition Congress Party said that the bill was a move to “destroy the foundation” of India.

“The CAB is an attack on the Indian constitution. Anyone who supports it is attacking and attempting to destroy the foundation of our nation,” party leader Rahul Gandhi posted in a tweet.

Priyanka Gandhi, Rahul’s sister and a prominent opposition leader, called the bill “India’s tryst with bigotry.”

However, BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma said: “The opposition is communalizing the bill. 

The CAB saves minorities who owe their origin to India from being prosecuted on grounds of religious status. The same is not the case with Muslims since they have not been prosecuted because of their religion.”

Eight northeastern states observed a day-long strike against the CAB. 

“Once the bill is implemented, the native tribal people will become permanent minorities in their own state,” Animesh Debbarma, a tribal leader who organized the strike in the state of Tripura said.

“The bill is against our fundamental rights and it is an attack on our constitution and secularism,” he told Arab News.

In Assam, some places saw violence with a vehicle belonging to the BJP state president vandalized.

In New Delhi, different civil society groups and individuals gathered close to the Indian Parliament and expressed their outrage at the “open and blatant attack” on what they called the “idea” of India.

“The CAB is not only against Muslim minorities but against all the minorities — be it Tamils or Nepali Gurkhas — and is a blatant attempt to polarize the society in the name of religion and turn India into a majoritarian Hindu state,” Nadeem Khan, head of United Against Hate, a campaign to connect people from different faiths, said.

Rallies and protests were also organized in Pune, Ahmadabad, Allahabad, Patna and Lucknow.

On Tuesday, more than 600 academics, activists, lawyers and writers called the bill “divisive, discriminatory, unconstitutional” in an open letter, and urged the government to withdraw the proposed law.

They said that the CAB, along with the NRC, “will bring untold suffering to people across the country. It will damage fundamentally and irreparably, the nature of the Indian republic.”

Delhi-based activist and a prominent human rights campaigner, Harsh Mander, said: “I feel the CAB is the most dangerous bill that has ever been brought by the Indian Parliament. We need a mass civil disobedience movement to oppose this legislation.”

Meanwhile, the international community is also watching the domestic debate on the CAB. 

Describing the initiative as a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction,”  a federal US commission on international religious freedom has sought US sanctions against Shah and other Indian leaders if the bill with the “religious criterion” is passed.

EU ambassador to India, Ugo Astuto, in a press conference in New Delhi on Monday said that he hopes: “The spirit of equality enshrined in the Indian constitution will be upheld by the Parliament.”


Filipino expats unite as home country battles volcano’s wrath

Updated 28 min 33 sec ago

Filipino expats unite as home country battles volcano’s wrath

  • Filipino groups in Dubai are coming together to collect goods for donation for the Taal eruption victims
  • The Philippines remained on high alert on Friday as authorities monitored Taal, which is the second most active volcano in the country

DUBAI: A vast grey stretched across empty villages – once verdant, now lifeless after volcanic ash wiped its colors. The thick charcoal-like substance cloaked cracked roads, tumbled trees, and dilapidated houses, as an angry volcano rumbled in the Philippines.

Tens of thousands of people were displaced earlier this week when Taal Volcano, a picturesque tourist spot about 70 kilometers south of Manila, spew huge plume of volcanic ash to the sky and triggered sporadic tremors around the province.

“When can we go back to our homes?” a hopeful man asked Filipino volunteer Jaya Bernardo, as she visited an evacuation site near where the Taal Volcano erupted on Sunday.

She couldn’t answer him straight, Bernardo said, because that meant telling him there might not be anything to go back to.

Bernardo, who lives in a mildly-hit town around Taal, has been going around evacuation centers to give out care packages, saying it’s “important for people to come together” in times like this.

Within hours of the volcanic eruption, the call for help reached the UAE, home to about a million Filipino expats. Many community groups have been organizing donation drives to collect goods to be sent back home.

Lance Japor, who leads a community group in Dubai, said inquiries were coming in about how to help volcano victims even before a campaign was announced.

“What I’ve noticed is that the desire to help others in need is innate to us,” he told Arab News, adding it was not the first time Filipino expats showed urgent concern and care for their countrymen when a calamity hit the Philippines.

There was a strong response for families displaced from a city in the south of the country after armed rebels captured the area. A community group from Dubai flew to the restive city to hand out gifts to families who had taken refuge in an abandoned building.

Japor’s volcano campaign has attracted the help of private companies such as hotels donating blankets and pillows, and cargo companies pledging to deliver the packages for free to the Philippines.

Filipino expats have also expressed a desire to volunteer, Japor added, and a volunteer event has been scheduled for Jan. 18 at the Philippines’ Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s office in Dubai.

Groups in the UAE are working with organizations in the Philippines to facilitate the donations and determine what the affected communities need. The list includes special face masks and eye drops, said Japor.

The Philippines remained on high alert on Friday as authorities monitored Taal, which is the second most active volcano in the country.

Volcanic ash has blanketed the area and villages lie empty, with authorities warning of a “bigger eruption” as earthquakes were still being felt around the area. 

The region was at alert level four from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, meaning that “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days.” The highest alert level is five.

The institute strongly reiterated total evacuation of Taal Volcano Island and high-risk areas as identified in hazard maps.

“Residents around Taal Volcano are advised to guard against the effects of heavy and prolonged ashfall. Civil aviation authorities must advise pilots to avoid the airspace around Taal Volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption column pose hazards to aircraft,” it added.

Police in the area have also warned residents against trying to go back to their houses without official clearance from authorities, but local media reports said people were sneaking back by boat to the island and nearby towns to check on their possessions.