Inside India’s citizenship protests: Muslims fear becoming ‘refugees in their own country’

As the largest mass protest in more than forty years grips India, Adam Withnall speaks to the activists, women and children caught up in the country’s citizenship crisis and fighting to save their nation

Sunday 09 February 2020 18:58
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Women wear masks at the Shaheen Bagh protest on Martyr’s Day, the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination
Women wear masks at the Shaheen Bagh protest on Martyr’s Day, the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination

India is currently in the grip of its largest mass protest since Indira Gandhi declared her infamous “Emergency” to quell nationwide unrest in the 1970s. Across the country, hundreds of rallies, candlelit marches and sit-ins have taken place since the government of Narendra Modi passed a bill which offers a path to citizenship for migrants of certain religions but excludes Muslims.

Defenders of the bill say it is necessary to protect those who have fled to India after suffering religious persecution in neighbouring Muslim-majority states like Bangladesh and Pakistan. But for its critics, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is a major step towards the final goal of Modi’s nationalist BJP party – to turn secularist India into a Hindu nation.

From the withdrawal of Kashmir’s autonomy to his promise to build a huge temple to the Hindu deity Lord Ram on the site of the destroyed Babri Masjid mosque, Modi has pushed ahead with policies that appeal to his middle-class, Hindu nationalist base since his landslide second election win last year. Yet with Kashmir, the destruction of Babri Masjid, and even to a large degree the imposition of a register of citizens in Assam, the reaction from the left and minority communities was muted.

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