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Protesters rally against citizenship bill in northeast India

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Indian activists of left-wing trade unions along with others attend a rally organized to protest against a controversial citizenship bill, in the Siliguri City of northeast Indian state of West Bengal, on December 10, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

A controversial citizenship bill passed in the lower house of the Indian parliament has sparked massive demonstrations in the northeastern states of India.

The bill’s passage in the lower house on Tuesday triggered widespread protests by a large number of tribal and indigenous citizens in the northeastern states.

Hundreds of angry protesters closed streets as part of an 11-hour shutdown across the region, which comprises of eight states, against the controversial bill.

The protest rallies took place hours after the lawmakers approved the measure covering citizenship for the non-Muslim minorities who fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan before 2015.

Major opposition parties from the northeast region voted against the bill, which critics say discriminates against Muslims. It still needs to be passed by the upper house of the parliament to become law.

The bill has prompted criticism at home and abroad, as it marks the first time India is weighing religion in granting citizenship. The measure also goes against India’s constitution, which guarantees legal equality to people of all faiths.

During a Monday parliament debate, opposition politician Asaduddin Owaisi ripped up a copy of the bill, calling it a move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to render Muslims “stateless.”

But the BJP, which had promised the measure in an election campaign that swept it to power in May, says the law is needed to help allegedly persecuted minority individuals in neighboring countries.

In July, the Indian government effectively took away the citizenship of some four million people in Assam, raising serious concerns over mass deportations of Muslim minorities from the northeastern state.

The draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) includes only those able to prove they were in Assam before 1971, when millions fled Bangladesh’s war of independence into the state.

Hundreds of thousands fled to India from Bangladesh during its 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. Most settled in Assam, which shares a long border with Bangladesh.

Rights groups had criticized the government’s move, saying the deletion of people from citizenship rolls was similar to Myanmar’s removal of rights and protections for its Rohingya Muslim community in 1982.

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