Indian state cracks down on protests against discriminatory citizenship law

Four people have already been killed by police in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, seen by many as a step towards establishing India as a Hindu majority country

December 13, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
Protests against CAB
Streets on the boil against passage of the citizenship amendment bill.

Across India, tens of thousands of people have hit the streets against the discriminatory and controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (earlier known as the Citizenship Amendment Bill or the CAB*), which provides citizenship based on religion. The Indian state has responded with violent repression to the protests against the recently passed law. Yesterday, a protester was shot dead by the police in the northeastern State of Assam, taking the number of people killed in protests against the law to four.

The protests are particularly intense in the States of Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur and Tripura, which lie close to Bangladesh and have historically faced an influx of migrants from across the border. 

In New Delhi, massive protests against the law were held at India Gate and Jamia Millia Islamia on December 12. 

Some village in Dibrugarh

Gepostet von Sandipan Talukdar am Mittwoch, 11. Dezember 2019

Indian military patrolling the street in Assam’s Dibrugarh as protests against CAB intensifies.

The amendment to citizenship act allows Hindus, Parsis, Jains, Sikhs and Christians who suffered religious persecution in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh and who arrived in India before December 31, 2014 to apply for citizenship. Earlier, they would have been classified as ‘illegal immigrants’ and barred from applying. However, Muslim refugees continue to fall under the category of illegal immigrants. Critics have pointed out that the law aims at establishing a Hindu majoritarian country, relegating the Muslim minorities to a second-class citizen status. They have also pointed out that the ruling far-right wing Bharatiya Janata Party is using this law to mobilize the Hindu majority of the country against Muslims, branding them as outsiders.

As the civilian unrest escalates, curbs have been put on media coverage of the protests with restriction on internet and cell phone services. Curfew has also been imposed in many northeastern states, and the military has also been deployed in the region in a bid to suppress the growing protests. This seems to be the new normal in India under the far-right government led by Narendra Modi. 

Assam police brutality
Indian Police and Assam commandos beat two women (one in picture) near Silphkuri during clashes Thursday, 12 Dec, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam, India. (Photos: Ahmed Khan/ Twitter)

The CAB is seen as supplementary to a proposed all-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise, which aims at identifying and detaining ‘illegal immigrants.’ 

The NRC exercise carried out in Assam led to more than 1.9 million people being declared as illegal or aliens in India, rendering them stateless. Hundreds were sent to detention camps, termed by many as concentration camps. According to reports, around 26 people have already died in these detention camps. 

Scholars and activists in India have denounced that the CAB and the NRC are part of a larger plan by the far-right forces in the country to destroy the secular fabric of India by providing privileges to the Hindu majority. The Hindus disenfranchised under the NRC exercise have been effectively given an out under CAB, which has, however, been denied to the Muslims.  

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, All India Forward Bloc and the Revolutionary Socialist Party have issued a joint statement, calling the NRC-CAB “completely violative of the Indian Constitution and aimed at destroying the secular democratic foundations of the Indian Republic.”


The parties have also called for nationwide popular protests on December 19, the date when Ram Prasad Bismil, a national hero of the independence struggle, was hanged at the Gorakhpur jail in 1927. 

The governments of three Indian States, West Bengal, Punjab and communist-ruled Kerala, have also rejected the ‘anti-constitutional’ act and declared that they will not implement CAB or the NRC. 

“The spirit of our Constitution is based on secularism and Modi government is trying to undermine secular characteristics of our Constitution by passing the bill. The CAB will divide the nation on the basis of religion and caste,” said Pinarayi Vijayan, chief minister of Kerala, on Thursday.

^ This is a developing story 

*The bill became an act on December 12 after it was passed by the both upper house and lower house of the Indian parliament and approved by the President of India.