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Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press
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It remains one of the darkest and most contentious points of Indian history: the 1947 partition into Hindu-dominant India and Muslim-dominant Pakistan.
Partition caused the displacement of 14 million people, the deaths of as many as 2 million along with much suffering.
And now, nearly three-quarters of a century later, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, seem intent to make the same mistakes all over again.
Despite a history of a Hindu majority, India has always enjoyed a secular government and a respect for varying faiths and ethnic groups.
The Modi government’s new citizenship law tests that tradition as it allows the government to make distinctions between Muslims and non-Muslims, and to brand Muslim citizens as illegal immigrants if they lack the necessary documents to prove Indian citizenship.
The new law has sparked major protests across India, which have left 23 so far dead (including three children) and more than 3,000 under arrest.
Protesters worry that the upcoming nationwide citizenship registry, or NRC, for which everyone will be required to provide documentary evidence of citizenship, will be used to deprive Indian Muslims citizenship under the new law, leaving them stateless.
India is home to nearly 200 million Muslims, one of the largest Muslim populations in the world.
Although Modi is trying to argue that the law isn’t so sinister, Amit Shah, Modi’s closest aide, was quoted earlier this year as saying, “First, we will bring the Citizenship Amendment Bill and will give citizenship to the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain and Christian refugees, the religious minorities from the neighboring nations.
“Then, we will implement NRC to flush out the infiltrators from our country.”
No, Shah clearly reveals this law to be what it is: bigoted evil.
What is the United States doing in all of this?
Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, urged India to “abide by its constitutional commitments, including on religious freedom.”
That’s fine as far as it goes, but much more needs to be done. Of course, this is same the Trump administration known for multiple iterations of its own punitive Muslim ban, so how much can we expect?
Still, as has been the case in other important foreign policy hotspots, bipartisan pressure needs to build now from Capitol Hill.
Other Western democracies must also speak out.
This law cannot stand.
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