All residents of the state of Assam, along the Bangladesh border, had to produce documentary proof that they or their ancestors had lived in India since 1971. Around 2 million of Assam’s population of 33 million — a mix of Hindus and Muslims — failed to pass the test, and these people now risk being rendered stateless. Huge new prisons are being built to incarcerate anyone determined to be an illegal immigrant.
Some of those already arrested have lived in India for generations.
The citizenship bill would allow Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsees or Jains who have migrated from Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan a clear path to naturalization in India.
Migrants who are Muslim — and this might include people who have lived in India for generations but were unable to produce an old property deed or birth certificate to prove it — would not be afforded the same protection.
The bill excludes Muslim members of religious minorities from neighboring countries, such as the Rohingya who have been persecuted ruthlessly in neighboring Myanmar.
International organizations have seized on that in criticizing the legislation.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a federal body, called the measure a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction” and said that the United States should consider sanctions against India if the bill passes.
Indian officials and other supporters of the bill cite attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, all of which are predominantly Muslim, and the shrinking Hindu populations in those countries.
Kanwal Sibal, a former foreign secretary and a supporter of Mr. Modi’s foreign policy, said the bill “certainly expresses a pro-Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist sentiment for objective reasons as they are a beleaguered community with no other option.’’
But, he said, the citizenship bill has “nothing to do with the Muslims of India. It relates to foreign Muslims who have infiltrated into India over the years.’’
But the big question many Muslims in India are now asking is: Who will be considered an Indian citizen? And who will be considered an illegal foreigner?