Violent clashes between protestors and police have erupted across India in recent days in response to a new law that grants citizenship to immigrants from certain surrounding countries but specifically excludes Muslims from eligibility. The discriminatory policy has alarmed not only India’s significant Muslim population, which numbers 200 million, but also other religious minorities in the majority Hindu country.
Proponents of the law, which easily passed India’s parliament, discount the discriminatory impact. They aregue that because Islam is a majority faith in those surrounding countries, Muslims aren’t suffering from the religious persecution the law is designed to address. But the Citizenship Amendment Bill has intensified concerns that the controlling Hindu Nationalist Party is transforming India’s secular government into a religious state.
The New York Times reports that the law may indeed be one step in a troubling trend:
This citizenship law was a much-touted campaign promise and a special wish of [Prime Minister’s Narenda Modi]’s Hindu base. His supporters see a future India as a place that emphasizes its Hindu heritage as much as possible and eliminates the special legal protections that exist for Muslims and other minorities.
Some analysts are quick to point out that the course Mr. Modi’s party is charting could lead to an India dominated by one faith and one viewpoint, where existential tensions hold back the economy and hamstring politics – as embodied by Pakistan, India’s struggling Islamic archenemy next door.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has condemned the law and called on the U.S. government to issue sanctions. In a press release, the Commission warns that through recent actions including the citizenship law, “the Indian government is creating a religious test for Indian citizenship that would strip citizenship from millions of Muslims.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of protestors have been injured in the government crackdown. Four protestors were killed by police in the northeastern state of Assam.