India’s parliament passes citizenship law, protests flare

Security personnel use batons to disperse students protesting against the governments Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), in Guwahati on December 11, 2019. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2019

India’s parliament passes citizenship law, protests flare

  • Police in Assam’s main city of Guwahati used water cannons and tear gas as they clashed with protesters
  • The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said on Monday that Washington should consider sanctions against Shah, a close associate of Modi

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling Hindu nationalist government on Wednesday won parliamentary approval for a far-reaching citizenship law that critics say undermines the country’s secular constitution, as protests against the legislation intensified.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before 2015.
The bill passed the upper house of parliament with 125 members supporting it and 105 opposing.
The move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government faced stiff resistance from opposition parties, minority groups and student bodies, with some calling it discriminatory against Muslims.
It is the third key election promise that Modi’s government has delivered since he was re-elected in May, re-energising his nationalist, Hindu support base and drawing attention away from a slackening economy.
As the upper chamber debated the bill, demonstrations against it turned violent in the country’s ethnically diverse northeast.
Soldiers were deployed in Tripura state and reinforcements put on standby in neighboring Assam, both of which border Bangladesh.
Despite assurances from India’s Home Minister Amit Shah that safeguards will be put in place, people in Assam and surrounding states fear that an influx of settlers could lead to a competition for land and upset the region’s demographic balance.
Some opposition Muslim politicians have also argued that the bill targets their community, which numbers more than 170 million people and is by far India’s largest minority group.
The government has said the new law will be followed by a citizenship register that means Muslims will have to prove they were original residents of India and not refugees from these three countries, potentially rendering some of them stateless.
“NARROW-MINDED“
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said on Monday that Washington should consider sanctions against Shah, a close associate of Modi, if India adopts the legislation.
“The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill marks the victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces over India’s pluralism,” said Sonia Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress party.
Defending the bill in the upper house, Shah said the new law only sought to help minorities persecuted in Muslim-majority countries contiguous with India.
“Nobody is taking citizenship away from India’s Muslims. This is a bill to give citizenship, not take citizenship away,” Shah said.
In another move criticized by Muslims as discriminatory, the government scrapped the disputed Kashmir region’s autonomy.
Last month, the country’s supreme court also allowed the construction of a Hindu temple at a religious site in Northern India also claimed by Muslims.
A curfew has been imposed in Assam’s main city of Guwahati after police clashed with thousands of protesters, beating them back using water cannons and tear gas.
State authorities in Assam also blocked mobile Internet services in 10 districts, fearing further violence.
Protesters, many of them students, remained on the streets late into Wednesday evening, where bonfires were lit, public property vandalized and vehicles set on fire.
“The bill will take away our rights, language and culture with millions of Bangladeshis getting citizenship,” said Gitimoni Dutta, a college student at the protest.


Sri Lanka launches online portal for migrant workers amid virus scare

A municipal worker sprays disinfectant on an ambulance in Atulugama on March 29, 2020, after the town was sealed off by health authorities following fears that it could be a cluster for COVID-19 infection after two positive cases. (AFP)
Updated 29 min 13 sec ago

Sri Lanka launches online portal for migrant workers amid virus scare

  • Inquiries include the welfare of student populations, extension of visa permits, lack of financial support for the unemployed, non-payment of salaries, the closing down of commercial establishments and questions related to quarantine measures on arrival

COLOMBO: To help its overseas migrant workers deal with the coronavirus, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Relations has launched an online portal where citizens can voice their concerns, officials said on Sunday.

“All Sri Lankans living abroad were invited to register voluntarily on the platform . . . allowing the government to reach out and provide assistance during emergencies such as the Covid-19 outbreak. This platform will allow the ministry to access real-time data for quick action,” an official from the foreign ministry said on Sunday.

Since its launch on March 26, the “Contact Sri Lanka” portal has seen 17,000 registrations, with several saying they want to return home as soon as possible.

“A bulk of the 700 inquiries received through the portal relate to the possibility of a return to the country,” excerpts from a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Relations and made available to Arab News, read on Sunday.

Registration by residents in the country will also allow the ministry to propose concrete policy decisions in critical response situations, such as evacuation measures, depending on the number of emergency assistance requests generated, the statement said.

It added that establishment of the portal was based on a “call made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for coordinated efforts by all government stakeholders to fight the Covid-19 outbreak and to harness digital technology to prompt faster and more efficient service delivery.”

Deputy General Manager of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) W. Leelaratne told Arab News that Sri Lankan employees, particularly at missions in the Middle East and Asia, would be working with host governments “to secure fair treatment and concessions for expatriate workers to the maximum extent possible.”

“This includes safeguarding the rights of the workers related to the payment of salaries and ensuring job security, ” he said.

Leelaratne said that due to the current global situation; the SLBFE has opened a 24/7 help desk for all migrant workers who could seek assistance by contacting the hotline.

Inquiries include the welfare of student populations, extension of visa permits, lack of financial support for the unemployed, non-payment of salaries, the closing down of commercial establishments and questions related to quarantine measures on arrival.

Dr. Anil Jasinghe, director general of Health Services, said that the number of coronavirus cases had risen to 110 with the detection of four new cases on Sunday.

Two of the four cases were arrivals from the south Indian city of Chennai, with Jasinghe saying that the government had requested all those flying in from Chennai to report to the nearest health facility for mandatory quarantine arrangements.

As an additional measure, the villages of Atulugama, Akurana and Kadayankulam have been placed under lockdown, while the districts of Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Puttalam and Jaffna have been declared high-risk zones with a full-day curfew to continue in these areas until further notice.