By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ANKARA (AA) - India’s parliament Wednesday evening passed controversial changes to the country’s citizenship law.
The bill, which would grant citizenship to six minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh -- all Muslim-majority nations in South Asia -- was put to a vote in the Rajya Sabha (upper house) of parliament, where it passed 125-105, with 15 abstentions.
As the bill was already approved by the Lok Sabha, lower house of parliament, now it just needs the president’s signature to become the law.
Opposition parties led by the Indian National Congress have accused the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government of violating the constitution by granting citizenship based on religion.
Also, Muslims are conspicuously absent from the qualifying list for citizenship, raising fears that this will be yet another blow to the minority group which, during this government, has faced mob attacks by Hindu vigilantes.
The move has triggered protests in many parts of India, leading to a curfew in parts of the northeastern Assam state.
“The curfew was imposed at 6.15 p.m. [1245GMT] and will be in place till 7.00 a.m. [0130GMT] Thursday,” Assam Police Director General Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta told news agency Press Trust of India (PTI).
The report said that tens of thousands of protesters descended on the streets of Assam, clashing with local police.
Indian army soldiers are on standby in parts of the Assam and Tripura provinces, local broadcaster NDTV reported.
Authorities in Tripura have also cut the internet to halt the spread of rumors.
- Government slams opposition
Interior Minister Amit Shah dismissed the criticism by opposition parties and compared it with criticism "made by Pakistan's prime minister," India's arch rival neighbor.
“Minorities in the three nations [Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh] do not get equal rights,” he added.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the statement, saying the new law "violates all norms of international human rights norms."
The bill also invoked a protest by eminent Indian figures. who wrote an open letter to Modi condemning it.
The letter -- signed by at least 726 people, including jurists, lawyers, activists, authors, academics, and actors -- said: “For the first time there is a statutory attempt to not just privilege people from some faiths but at the same time relegate another, Muslims, to second-rate status.”