Unlike corona, PM Modi yet to call for unity against anti-Muslim violence; CAA unjust: Human Rights Watch

India’s discriminatory new citizenship law and policies have spurred violence against Muslims, said Human Rights Watch said in its 82 page report

Protesters at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi demanding withdrawal of Citizenship Amendment Act and proposal to extend NRC across India, on Saturday, Dec 14, 2019. (PTI Photo)
Protesters at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi demanding withdrawal of Citizenship Amendment Act and proposal to extend NRC across India, on Saturday, Dec 14, 2019. (PTI Photo)

NH Web Desk

International human rights organisation the Human Rights Watch on Thursday released a report on the amended Citizenship Act and National Register of Citizens brought in by the Modi government.

India’s discriminatory new citizenship law and policies have spurred violence against Muslims, Human Rights Watch has said in its 82 page report.

CAA, along with a planned nationwide verification process to identify “illegal migrants” can threaten the citizenship rights of millions of Indian Muslims

“In December 2019, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government adopted the Citizenship Amendment Act, which for the first time makes religion a basis for citizenship,” reads the report

Cops and several other officials have repeatedly failed to intervene when government supporters attacked those protesting the new citizenship policies, says the 82-page report titled, “Shoot the Traitors’: Discrimination Against Muslims Under India’s New Citizenship Policy.”

“The police, however, have been quick to arrest critics of the policy and disperse their peaceful demonstrations, including by using excessive and lethal force.”

“India’s prime minister has appealed for a united fight against COVID-19, but has yet to call for unity in the fight against anti-Muslim violence and discrimination,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Government policies have opened the door for mob violence and police inaction that have instilled fear among Muslims and other minority communities throughout the country.”

HRW report is based on more than 100 interviews with victims of abuse and their families from Delhi and the states of Assam and Uttar Pradesh, as well as with legal experts, academics, activists, and police officials.

The new amended citizenship law fast-tracks asylum claims of irregular immigrants from the neighboring Muslim-majority countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, but excludes Muslims. It was enacted amid the BJP government’s push for a nationwide citizenship verification process, through a National Population Register (NPR) and a National Register of Citizens (NRC), aimed at screening out “illegal migrants.”

Meanwhile, work on the population register has been deferred to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Various statements from the home minister and other BJP leaders have raised fears that millions of Indian Muslims, including many whose families have lived in the country for generations, could be stripped of their citizenship rights and disenfranchised.

“The United Nations and a number of governments have publicly criticised the citizenship law as discriminatory on the basis of religion. Some BJP leaders called described protesters as “traitors,” to be shot.”

The report further mentions the Delhi Pogrom which claimed over 50 lives and left several injured and many homeless

“In the national capital in February 2020, communal clashes and Hindu mob attacks on Muslims resulted in more than 50 deaths. Witness accounts and video evidence show police complicity in the violence. In one incident, police officers beat a group of five Muslim men injured in the mob attacks, taunting them, and ordered them to sing the national anthem as a form of humiliation. One of these men later died.”

At least 30 people, mostly Muslims, were killed during protests in BJP-governed states, particularly in Uttar Pradesh. During other protests, including by students, the police failed to intervene when government supporters attacked protesters. “The police were present in the campus when the violence broke out,” said a student at a university in Delhi who was injured when a pro-BJP group attacked protesting students. “We sought help from them and then we ran to flee the attackers, but the police never came to our aid.”

The National Register of Citizens has already left nearly two million people at risk of arbitrary detention and statelessness in India’s northeast state of Assam.

Human Rights Watch found that the process in Assam lacked standardisation, leading to arbitrary and discriminatory decisions by officials, and put undue hardship on poorer residents who do not have access to identity documentation – dating back for decades – to establish citizenship claims. Women, who are more likely than men to lack access to documentation, were disproportionately affected. The process in Assam has heightened fears over a nationwide citizenship registry.

The Foreigners Tribunals, which decide citizenship in Assam, lack transparency and uniform procedures, Human Rights Watch said.

The Citizenship Amendment Act violates India’s international obligations to prevent deprivation of citizenship on the basis of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin.

Human Rights Watch also appealed to the Modi government to repeal the discriminatory act and to ensure that the future policy follows international legal standards.

“The Indian government should repeal the amendment and ensure that any future national asylum and refugee policy does not discriminate on any grounds, including religion, and complies with international legal standards. It should also discard any plan for a nationwide citizenship verification project until there are public consultations to establish standardized procedures and due process protections to ensure that it does not impose undue hardship on the poor, minority communities, migrant or internally displaced populations, and women,” Human Rights Watch said.

Illustrative Cases from HRW Report

Salima (name changed), Assam

Salima, 45, a Bengali Muslim in Barpeta district, was declared an irregular foreigner in February 2019. However, her relatives with the same documentation were certified. Her lawyer said this was because when Salima was giving oral evidence at the tribunal she was not able to properly explain her case, as often occurs in rural communities where people can be uncertain about ages and other details. “Litigants are poor, they do not understand the consequences,” her lawyer said. “She was not able to tell the court that she had a stepmother, and also how many brothers and sisters she had and their exact ages.”

Asad Raza, Muslim cleric, Uttar Pradesh

Police in Muzaffarnagar district allegedly entered a madrassa, an Islamic seminary, on December 20, ransacked it, and detained its cleric and 35 students, 15 of whom were under the age of 18. The cleric, Asad Raza, said scores of policemen came following afternoon prayers, ostensibly looking for protesters, but instead went on a rampage, beating up people and destroying property:

When I opened the main gate, the police started beating me. They broke down every door to find students. They never told us why they detained us. They just started beating us. They took our mobile phones and did not return them. They also took some money from the office. Nothing like this has ever happened here.

SR Darapuri, retired police officer, Uttar Pradesh

SR Darapuri, a former senior police officer and now prominent activist, was placed under house arrest in December to prevent him from participating in protests against the citizenship law. The police nonetheless arrested him on false charges, perhaps to make an example of him. “If they could do this to a retired inspector general of police, I hate to think of what they are doing to the common man,” he said.

Darapuri said the police in Uttar Pradesh were acting in an openly discriminatory manner: “They do not bother hiding their bias, as they know they are fully protected.”

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