"We are here for only a single purpose. That purpose is civil rights and religious freedom and nothing more than that," Indian-American Mike Ghouse from the Washington-based non-governmental organisation Centre for Pluralism told the gathering, which included women, children and students.
Advocating “one India, one people and nation”, a large number of Indian-Americans gathered around the statue of Mahatma Gandhi installed in front of the Indian Embassy here and held a peaceful demonstration against the amended Citizenship Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). According to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 following religious persecution there will get Indian citizenship.
“We are here for only a single purpose. That purpose is civil rights and religious freedom and nothing more than that,” Indian-American Mike Ghouse from the Washington-based non-governmental organisation Centre for Pluralism told the gathering, which included women, children and students. Organised by American-Indian Muslims in association with over a dozen of similar bodies, peaceful protestors from in and around the Greater Washington Area on Sunday shouted slogans in favour of India’s unity and displayed posters and banners alleging that the country was headed in a direction that was not secular in nature and violated the ethos of the Constitution.
The protesters also passed a resolution requesting the Indian government to withdraw both the CAA and the NRC. “All we want the (Indian government) is to repeal the laws that have been enacted recently, so that we all can be one India, one people and nation under god so that we can work together, live together and not worry and not have any tensions about who is who one people,” Ghouse said.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) was signed into law earlier this month. The NRC exercise was conducted only in Assam on the directions of the Supreme Court. Several Union ministers, including Home Minister Amit Shah, have often pitched for a nationwide NRC exercise, with Shah telling Parliament recently that it will be carried out.
However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday sought to allay apprehensions, especially among Muslims, saying his government has never discussed the NRC since coming to power for the first time in 2014. Addressing a rally in New Delhi, Modi said, “Since my government first came to power in 2014…there has never been a discussion on this NRC”, and noted that it was done only in Assam due to a Supreme Court order.
The CAA, Modi said, is about giving rights to persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries and does not snatch anybody’s rights, as he made an appeal for peace. According to the resolution passed by the Indian-American protesters, both the CAA and the NRC are likely to push India backward as a nation. “We therefore resolve that India’s BJP government should withdraw both of these legislations at the earliest,” said the resolution, a copy of which was submitted to the Indian Embassy.
“The possible implementation of both of these legislations is likely to cause huge conflicts between the majority and minority communities, reducing the citizenship status of Indian Muslims and causing conflagration between the ethnically and religiously diverse states and people of India. As evidenced by the recent chaos in Assam and Kashmir, and elsewhere, these Acts are likely to cause much harm to the Indian nation and the Indian people,” it said. According to the organisers more than 200 people joined the over two-hour protest at the Gandhi Statue in downtown Washington, in front of the Indian Embassy.
“At a time when India’s economy is in much decline, unemployment is rising, lawlessness is widespread, and public corruption is rife, the BJP government instead of working to resolve these serious issues, is coming up with strange policies that are forcing Indians to prove their being citizens,” said Kaleem Kawaja, from the American-Indian Muslims and coordinators, Rally Against NRC, CAA. “The NRC that is being applied all over the country is forcing people to show their original government issued birth certificate in a country where such certificates did not exist until a few decades ago, especially among the poor and illiterate communities who are about half of the country,” he said.
The NRC has been prepared to identify genuine Indian citizens living in Assam since March 24, 1971, or before, and identify illegal Bangladeshi migrants in the state. Out of 3.3 crore applicants, over 19 lakh people were excluded from the final NRC published on August 30. “The current government is destroying the social fabric of India gained in 70 years of our freedom. (PM) Modi and (Union Home Minister) Amit Shah have to take the policy back,” said one of the protestors.