Protests broke out in India on the 4th December 2019 following the clearing of the Citizenship Amendment Act by India’s government on the same day. This new piece of legislation will grant Indian citizenship to foreign nationals from neighbouring countries that are facing religious persecution. However, the often-violent protests that followed in many parts of the country were addressing different issues with the Citizenship Amendment Act in different parts of the country. What is so controversial about the Citizenship Amendment Act? What is behind the outbreak of protests in India and why do they vary geographically? What problems underlie the violence and are causing so much anger in India?
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A challenge to India’s secular nature
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The protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act has been riddled with accusations of police brutality, protests have been most violent in Uttar Pradesh, but violence has not been limited to this state with two protesters being shot and killed by police in Assam. The Indian government has been criticised for using the police crackdown to stifle rights to free speech and peaceful protest, the latter of which is protected under India’s constitution. There are concerns of the legality of police action too after police trespassed at Jamia Millia Islamia University and attacked university students with teargas and batons in a campus library despite these students not even protesting. This is nothing new in India however as there is a long history of police violence in the country, including beatings of innocent civilians, wrongful arrests and even torture, and as the government becomes increasingly harsh and populist the question police accountability becomes even more desperate.
The majority of protests happening both in India and abroad were founded on deep concerns that the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) poses a threat to Indian secularism. The CAA was enacted by a Hindu government and makes it easier for all migrants apart, specifically, from Muslims. This amendment to the immigration process has left people worrying about the possible disenfranchisement of a large selection of India’s population, and whether India is slowly becoming a Hindu state. But numerous lawyers are challenging the CAA and intend to have the law struck down as unconstitutional by the country’s Supreme Court, as India’s constitution makes direct reference to the secular state of the nation.