International students and members of Metro Vancouver’s South Asian community are adding their voices to opposition from around the world to a new law that critics say grants citizenship in India on the basis of religion.
A rally in Surrey’s Holland Park is planned for Sunday to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act passed earlier this month, under which illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are eligible for citizenship in India if they are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian and are fleeing persecution in those countries. Muslims, however, are not eligible.
Gurpreet Singh is one of the rally organizers and a co-founder of Indians Abroad for Pluralist India, a group that formed in response to attacks on religious minorities in India.
Mr. Singh said he believes the government sets a “dangerous” precedent by passing the bill, which he describes as discriminatory.
“They are trying to polarize the Hindu majority against a Muslim minority,” he said. “They are saying that Muslims cannot come from these countries as refugees, whereas others who can come are non-Muslims. … It’s a religious precedent they are trying to set, which goes against the spirit of the Indian constitution.”
Mr. Singh said the legislation also ignores the struggle of Muslims who have had to escape persecution in neighboring countries.
If the bill goes unchallenged, he believes religious minorities, particularly Muslims, will face further discrimination in India and be treated as “second-class citizens.”
Mr. Singh said he hopes the rally in Surrey will draw attention to the Modi government’s actions in India.
“Canadians are paying a lot of attention to what is happening across the border … but rarely do we see them standing up against what is being done by Narendra Modi, which really concerns us,” he said, adding he wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government to show leadership by speaking up against the legislation.
“We are hoping that, at least, the Canadian government will pay some attention to what is going on in India right now,” he said. “If you have trade relations with that country, if you have many Indians living in different ridings, how come you’re not paying attention to what’s going on there?”
Riya Talitha, an international student from India studying political science at the University of British Columbia, said she is using her social-media platform to educate followers in Canada and India about the impacts of the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Ms. Talitha is a founding member of UBC With Kashmir, an activist group raising awareness about the Modi government’s security crackdown in the region. Ms. Talitha is notifying her social-media followers about organized petitions and protests, including the coming rally in Surrey.
Although she said there are several reasons why different groups are opposed to the Citizenship Amendment Act, most people agree it is “clearly Islamophobic.”
“It really undermines the constitution by defining citizenship in a way that excludes Muslims,” Ms. Talitha said. “It makes religion a condition for citizenship, and it excludes Muslims from that.”
She said many other international students are sharing information about how to speak up against the bill.
She said she is motivated to act in solidarity with university students who are protesting the bill in India, and to fight discrimination against religious minorities, including Muslims.
“All of this hatred and division and strife, these are not values I was raised with, and these are not things that were encouraged in my house,” Ms. Talitha said. “It’s horrifying for me to see this amount of hatred.”