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India’s Citizenship Amendment Bill: What it Does and Why It’s so Controversial

Updated: Jan 7, 2020

This past December, students across the nation of India marched on the streets in protest of India’s new Citizenship Amendment Bill, or CAB. Carrying signs and yelling cries of protest, these students marched from places like their college campuses to areas with a larger scope of media attention such as the Taj Mahal. Eventually, federal authorities began to intervene, and thousands of protesters became subject to extreme police brutality. Amongst all this raging violence, a question arises: What exactly is the Citizenship Amendment Bill?

This article will take a look at this issue by analyzing what this controversial legislation does, expound onto the rhetoric of opposing groups, and ultimately, explain what it means for the subcontinent.


A group of civilians protesting on the streets against CAB

Source: Daily Pioneer

What the Citizenship Amendment Bill Does

This legislation provides accessible citizenship to religious minorities from three majorly Muslim neighboring states: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Specifically, the legislation requires they be of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian faith. It was first introduced in parliament in 2016. In 2019, it passed by the lower house of India’s parliament (where the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, holds a majority). The day after, it was also passed in the upper house of parliament. The BJP shows clear support for the bill, stating that it “allows for religious minorities in other countries who are undergoing discrimination or persecution can easily gain citizenship to India.”

Why it is so Controversial

While the legislation claims to be of good intent, there are many opposers stating that it does more harm than good. The biggest opposition to this legislation is it discriminates against Muslims being that it excludes Muslims from the list of those who are eligible for access to Indian citizenship. In fact, it has been deemed unconstitutional by many on the basis that it violates India’s foundational policy of maintaining secularism within policy. Other adversaries stipulate that it will further marginalize and isolate India’s 200 million-strong Muslim community. Despite the BJP’s statement that the purpose of this legislation is simply to assist those being persecuted for their religion, they discounted the many Muslim minorities in other countries who were also being persecuted, such as the Rohingya population in Myanmar, and those in Sri Lanka.

Another huge opposition group, are those living in India’s Northeast. Within cities such as Assam and Tripura, located on the border of India and Bangladesh, more raging protests have occurred. People have been protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Bill because they worry about Hindu refugees from Bangladesh coming into the region, ultimately changing its ethnic and religious composition. They also state that it will cause large competition for resources. According to Aljazeera in December of 2019, many student-led organizations are leading these protests against CAB.

What It Means for India

Amid this violence, protesting, and controversy, it is important to understand, what does this mean?

The BJP's support for this legislation is symbolic of the power the BJP has gained over the past few years. It also demonstrates how India has started to inch away from the secular stance it bore for years. The Citizenship Amendment Bill is a controversial piece in the puzzle of a continually growing BJP.

Its International Effect

The Citizenship Amendment Bill is one of the most controversial pieces of legislation signed in India’s history. It has made waves not only nationally, but on international news, reaching Indians living in the US. Thousands of Indian-American youth and adults have renounced and protested CAB, standing in solidarity with Muslims within the nation of India. This widespread support not only showcases the diversity of culture and religion within the U.S. itself, but it also shows how Asian political apathy is slowly coming to a halt. Support from Indian-Americans is apparent because of the fact that youth are educating themselves on the global political climate. It is extremely vital that we, as the youth continue to advocate against these types of legislation and other injustices in order to create real change within the political landscape, not only nationally but on an international level.


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