Discriminatory Law Solidifies India’s Ethnic, Religious Hierarchies

by Vins
Published: Updated:

A new discriminatory law denying citizenship to Muslims passed in India this winter. On December 11, 2019 the India’s Parliament approved the Citizenship Amendment Act (C.A.A.)—an amendment to the Citizenship Act of 1955—which restricts Muslims from accessing the nation’s fast-tracked citizenship process. Immigrants of other religious backgrounds arriving from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh will be able to continue fast-tracking their citizenship without impact from the C.A.A. Hannah Ellis-Peterson, the Guardian’s south Asia correspondent who covered the story from Delhi, wrote that the goal of this legislation was to provide refuge in India for “threatened minorities,” a status not granted to Muslims. As a result, many Indians feel the amendment has “declared war on [India’s] Muslim citizens,” Ellis-Peterson wrote.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has refused to acknowledge the act’s discriminatory impacts, often supporting anti-Muslim claims. Consequently, Indians have taken to the streets in protest, demanding equal rights to citizenship for immigrants of all religious backgrounds. The Indian Supreme Court is expected to hear cases against the C.A.A. As of January 22, 2020, the Supreme Court gave the Prime Minister four weeks to reply to claims about the acts’ “unconstitutionality.”

The C.A.A. reveals religious and ethnic prejudice at the highest level of India’s national government. According to an Indian correspondent for Commonweal Magazine, Prime Minister Modi has made public statements about Muslim aggression and rebellion: “Muslims are behind the violence that has sometimes erupted during mass demonstrations against [the] government’s new citizenship law.” The Prime Minister’s recent actions and words have merely underscored the legislature’s supposed discrimination.

Furthermore, the C.A.A. has not been the government’s only anti-Muslim action. In August 2019, Indian leaders instituted travel and communication bans in the state of Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state. Kashmir’s special legislative status, protecting it from being claimed by another nation, was also eradicated, effectively “stripping [Kashmir] of any autonomy, removing its constitution and rules that have prevented outsiders from buying land,” as Azhar Farooq and Rebecca Ratcliffe reported for the Guardian in August 2019. In tandem with government officials’ comments and recent events in Kashmir, the C.A.A further isolates Muslims and places them in a position of inferiority. Those who are poor bear the C.A.A.’s strongest impacts, since they frequently lack the documents required to prove their identities.

While there have been reports on this story from corporate giants like the Washington Post and CNN, their coverage remains mostly surface level and neglects details that independent news sources like the Guardian have consistently emphasized. Western reporting tends to focus on how political leaders in India will be affected, essentially reducing this situation to a minor misstep in their political careers. By contrast, independent news sources frame the story in terms of how people are affected by the law and their efforts to fight back against it.


Hannah Ellis-Petersen, “India Clamps down on Citizenship Law Protests,” The Guardian, December 18, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/18/india-clamps-down-against-citizenship-law-protests.

Azhar Farooq and Rebecca Ratcliffe, “Kashmir City on Lockdown after Calls for Protest March,” The Guardian, August 23, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/23/kashmir-city-srinagar-india-lockdown-calls-protest-march.

“‘True Indians’?: Citizens Are Resisting Modi’s Scapegoating of Muslims,” Commonweal Magazine, January 21, 2020, https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/true-indians.

Student Researchers: Caileigh Hickox, Jennifer Nelson, and Natalie Passov (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)