Is India’s Citizenship Amendment Act an Incitement to Anti-Indian Sentiment in South Asia?

The Indian Parliament, amending the Citizenship Act of 1955, had ratified the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on December 11, 2019.  The amendment facilitated the granting of Indian citizenship to religious minorities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians who had fled from the neighbouring Muslim-majority nations of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan due to religious persecution or the threat of persecution before December 2014. The passage of the CAA raised a storm of protest in India that led to sectarian violence claiming lives and wounding people. Though the implementation of an Act is contingent upon the notification of associated rules, no rules were issued immediately after the passage the Citizenship Amendment Act. However, after a span of about four years and a half, on March 11, 2024, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs issued the Citizenship Amendment Rules 2024 (CAR). 

India is a regional and international powerhouse and a key actor in South Asia. As the biggest democracy in the world, home to a thriving economy and a wealth of cultural traditions, India helps keep the peace in its neighbouring countries. It is a key player for its strategic location and strong military. The fact that India is actively seeking bilateral relationships and participating in regional forums shows that it is serious about promoting collaboration and progress in South Asia. With its significant diplomatic and economic influence, India not only influences regional issues but also promotes peace, stability, and prosperity across South Asia. While this is happening, the amendment of the 1955 Citizenship Act may fuel anti-Indian sentiment in South Asian countries. The reasons are mentioned below.

First, those who are against the CAA point out that it grants citizenship depending on religious affiliation, which they say is biassed against Muslims and goes against India’s secular norms. Some South Asian countries and social groups, especially those with a Muslim majority, have spoken out against this notion. Second, neighbouring nations are understandably worried about the CAA and what it could mean for regional stability and the dynamics of cross-border migration. Some are worried that the CAA will change the regional political and social climate as well as bilateral relations.  Thirdly, Muslim populations in South Asia may already be feeling alienated and disenfranchised due to the CAA’s discriminatory policies and the marginalization of Muslims. This has the potential to foster radicalization and extremism, which in turn could amplify anti-Indian sentiment and instability in the region.

Fourthly, anti-Indian sentiment has been on the rise in the region, and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has become a divisive topic. This view, which has its origins in long-standing animosities and religious conflicts, has been intensified by the contentious CAA. There are several historical, political, and socioeconomic reasons that have contributed to the anti-Indian prejudice that South Asia has long had to deal with. All the more reason to feel this way now that the CAA is in effect. Many feel that the statute is discriminatory because it does not grant Indian citizenship to Muslims or other members of religious minorities from neighbouring nations. Many see this biassed approach as going against India’s secular principles and as a step towards discrimination.

Fifthly, the CAA’s targeting of particular religious communities has further strained ties between India and its neighbouring countries. Unintentionally straining diplomatic ties and igniting nationalist emotions in neighbouring nations, India has accused them of persecuting minorities.  Sixthly, the government’s effort to reconcile different interests is shown by the lack of consensus on the CAA, which reflects deep-seated differences within Indian society. The Act’s supporters consider it as a tool to shield oppressed minority groups, while its detractors see it as a means to discriminate against and marginalize Muslim populations. The public no longer has faith in the government’s capacity to protect democratic principles because of this internal strife. Even within India, there has been substantial resistance to the CAA. The Act’s detractors say it goes against the values stated in India’s constitution and damages the country’s secular foundation. People from all walks of life took to the streets to voice their displeasure with the government’s decision and the widespread protests that followed.

Indian Muslims, opposition parties and secular human rights activists are of the opinion that the CAA has been absolutely discriminatory against Muslims and will vitiate the secular spirit of India’s constitution. Yogendra Yadav, a prominent political activist said, “This law has been about creating two tires of citizenships in India: non-Muslims and Muslims.” Critics say Modi is pushing a Hindu-nationalist agenda that threatens to shrink the latitude for religious minorities, particularly Muslims and transform India into a Hindu nation. Many have filed lawsuits in courts calling for the cancellation of the legislation.

There is widespread speculation that the central government is behind the politically motivated timing of CAA’s notification, which coincides with the upcoming announcement of general elections. This means that different people in the area will see it in different light, and that the narratives will all contribute to the development of anti-Indian feeling. Such domestic strife tarnishes India’s reputation as an inclusive and peaceful society and may cause concern in neighbouring South Asian nations, which may see India’s problems as a sign of instability in the region as a whole. As a result, South Asian neighbours may see India with suspicion and lose faith in the country’s dedication to social harmony and equality as a result of the CAA and the arguments around it.

Last but not least, the CAA has sparked new discussions about Indian citizenship, belonging, and identity. It has prompted discussions over the proper standards for determining citizenship rights and the qualifications for being a citizen. Inflaming preexisting tensions, these discussions have shown where religious and ethnic groups in India are at odds with one another.

A source of tension between Indians and non-Indians in the area is the introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Act. Tensions and distrust have grown between India and its neighbours as a result of its contentious clauses, as well as internal dissent and long-standing complaints. It is critical that all parties involved in the CAA debate have fruitful conversations and resolve the root causes of anti-Indian sentiment in the area while the debate unfolds. Finding long-term solutions to foster harmony, stability, and mutual understanding requires democratic and inclusive approaches.

[Photo by DiplomatTesterMan, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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