By Shuriah Niazi
NEW DELHI (AA) - Even as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday defended controversial legislation granting citizenship to religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the opposition and rights groups called it an insult to the country’s secular character.
Modi tried to assuage people in India’s northeastern state of Assam, where violent protests erupted against the bill. The army has been deployed at four places in the northeastern states. Reports from Guwahati, the provincial capital of Assam, said people defied curfew and clashed with police.
“I want to assure my brothers and sisters of Assam that they have nothing to worry after the passing of #CitizenshipAmendmentBill2019,” Modi tweeted.
"I want to assure them -- no one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow. The Central government and I are totally committed to constitutionally safeguard the political, linguistic, cultural and land rights of the Assamese people as per the spirit of Clause 6,” he added.
India’s main opposition the Congress, however, called passing of the legislation a retrograde step. Party head Sonia Gandhi said it is a “dark day in the constitutional history of India”.
“The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill marks the victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces over India's pluralism,” she said in a statement.
She further said that it was ironic that the legislation was pushed through at a time when the country and indeed the whole world is celebrating the 150th birthday of India’s freedom icon Mahatma Gandhi.
The bill was passed by both houses of parliament. It has now been sent to the President of India for his signature to enter into the law books.
Amnesty International also called it a bigoted law, and demanded that it be scrapped immediately.
“The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill passed by the Indian Parliament legitimizes discrimination on the basis of religion and stands in clear violation of the Constitution of India and international human rights law," the rights group said in a statement.
The group said, while providing asylum to the persecuted people is a positive step, but in a secular country like India, slamming doors on persecuted Muslims and other communities, because of their faith, reflects fear-mongering and bigotry.
“The amendments are completely oblivious to the nature and scale of persecution faced by minorities in the neighboring region”, said Avinash Kumar, executive director of Amnesty India.
- Top Muslim police officer resigns
Former bureaucrat and activist Harsh Mander, who opposes the bill, said that he would officially register himself as a Muslim to protest its prejudiced nature.
"I will officially register as a Muslim. I will then refuse to submit any documents to National Registry of Citizens. I will finally demand the same punishment, as any undocumented Muslim faces at detention center," Mander said in a tweet.
A senior police officer in Western Indian state of Maharashtra resigned from service to mark protest against the bill. Abdur Rahman, posted as special inspector general in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, said he would not be attending office from Thursday.
"This bill is against the religious pluralism of India. I request all justice-loving people to oppose the legislation in a democratic manner. It runs against the very basic feature of the Constitution," he said.
Meanwhile, the Indian Union Muslim League on Thursday moved the Supreme Court challenging the legislation, a day after it was passed in the upper house, completing the legislative process for its adoption.