NEW DELHI: Hundreds of women took to the streets in the Indian capital New Delhi on Tuesday, in defiance of the government’s orders against mass gatherings, to continue protesting against the new citizenship law.
The activists demanded chief ministers from 29 Indian states de-link the census from the National Population Register (NPR) saying: “It would render many woman as stateless, regardless of caste and community, as the majority of them leave their natal homes upon marriage without any documents in tow.”
Humera Sayed, 26, said she was not afraid of the coronavirus outbreak despite the warning issued by the government to avoid public assembly.
“For me coronavirus is less dangerous than the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register for Citizens (NRC) that threaten the very existence of the Muslim community in India,” Sayed, who has been sitting at the protest site in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area since mid-December, told Arab News.
“If the government is really concerned about the safety of Muslim citizens, then why did it fail to protect their lives in the recent wave of violence in Delhi that claimed so many lives?” she added.
Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government enacted the CAA in December 2019, protests against the law have been ongoing across the country. The CAA makes it easier for religious minorities from three neighboring countries — Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan — to acquire citizenship if they entered India before 2015, but it excludes Muslims. The new citizenship law also has the provision to prepare the NPR, where every Indian would have to give details of his ancestry besides providing personal information.
Activists believe the NPR is the precursor to the proposed NRC, an exercise in identifying the genuine citizens of India. Muslims in India fear that the NPR and NRC would render them stateless if they failed to provide citizenship documents, but that Hindus, for example, would be protected under the CAA.
On Monday, the government issued a warning asking people not to form a gathering of more than 50 people on account of the spread of the virus.
“Coronavirus does not challenge our existence, you can be cured of coronavirus, but the law that the government has brought in threatens the very existence of the Muslim community in India,” said Zikra Mojibi, a postgraduate student at the protest in Delhi.
told Arab News.
“As a precaution to avoid coronavirus infection, we have asked elderly women to restrict their attendance,” she added. “We are planning to hold protests in groups rather than in a big numbers. But we are not going to back down and withdraw our protest.”
On Tuesday, twenty women’s groups from different parts of India asked state governments to stop the process of the proposed NPR, set to roll out from April 1, the same day as India will launch its census, which is held every decade.
“The amended citizenship law clearly says that on the basis of the NPR, there would be an NRC that means many genuine citizens would be rendered stateless, as happened in Assam, where the government prepared the NRC list in 2018,” said Poonam Kaushik of the Progressive Women Association.
Last year, the northeastern state of Assam prepared an NRC where around 2 million people were left off, the majority of them belonging to the Hindu community. The Hindus were protected under the CAA, but more than 400,000 Muslims were rendered stateless. Many women could not register themselves as citizen because of a lack of valid documents.
Women’s rights activist and writer Farah Naqvi said: “All women, irrespective of caste and religious community, will be affected by this new NPR-NRC regime that puts our citizenship to the test in a totally arbitrary and frightening manner.”
On Friday, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah told the country’s parliament: “No document needs to be submitted. You can give whatever information you have and leave the other questions blank.”
He added: “Nobody would be marked doubtful if documents are not produced.”
Kaushik, however said: “The country is run by law, not by assurances. Shah’s statement does not carry any meaning until the citizenship law is amended or withdrawn.”