LONDON: The British government has described the Citizenship Act of 2019 as “clearly divisive” and in a House of Lords debate expressed concerns about the rights of minorities in India and called on Delhi to exercise restraint.
Conservative life peer Baroness Sugg, minister of overseas territories, speaking on behalf of the British government, said: “Ongoing protests against the act across India leave no doubt that this legislation is divisive. The UK government has concerns about the impact of the legislation. There is no doubt that this act has been divisive in this country, too, including among our Indian diaspora.”
The House of Lords debate in London on Tuesday evening, tabled by crossbench peer John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich, called on the UK government to urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi to conduct a review of the CAA and its effects on Indian society amid the deaths associated with mass protests against the act in the country.
The UK government, in response, said it has been closely monitoring the situation as the act has “clearly been divisive in India” and there are some concerns over its full impact.
“Ongoing protests against the act across India leave no doubt that this legislation is divisive. I know that people in this country – including in this House as has been made clear today – feel strongly about it. For our part, the UK government has concerns about the impact of the legislation,” said Baroness Liz Sugg, the parliamentary under-secretary of state in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
“Its full impact remains unclear. We hope and trust that the government of India will address the concerns and protect the rights of people of all religions, in keeping with India’s Constitution, its democratic values and its inclusive traditions,” she said, adding that the government would continue to “follow and monitor events closely” and raise any concerns with “close friend and partner” India.
The debate was opened by the Earl of Sandwich with references to his own time spent in India, as he also called for an assessment of the CAA’s impact on UK citizens given the strong India-UK relationship.
“The Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, which passed through the Lok Sabha in December, granted an amnesty to illegal immigrants from three neighbouring countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh – but not to Muslims from those countries. Unsurprisingly, there have been riots and protests in New Delhi, Aligarh and all over the country, and not only from the Muslim community,” Montagu said.
“The regular migration of families between our two countries suggests that there is more sensitivity to discrimination than ever within our Asian minorities. This hits the Muslim community hardest,” he said.
Indian-origin peer Lord Meghnad Desai sought to highlight that the reactions to the act reflect a “conjectural fear” because neither the act nor the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) have been implemented.
“It is said that the act is unconstitutional, but we do not know that yet because the Supreme Court of India has not yet heard on that issue People are saying that the CAA has been passed for no other reason than to let the Hindus with dubious papers to go through but not anyone else. This has not yet happened – it is a conjectural fear,” said Lord Desai, who also informed the House of his regular newspaper columns in India on the subject.
Fellow Indian-origin peer Lord Raj Loomba stressed that the CAA was passed through an “open, transparent and fully democratic process”.
“The government of India has repeatedly clarified that the CAA is to grant citizenship on a one-time basis to a group of persons with no alternative options and not to take away the citizenship of anyone, much less an Indian Muslim,” he said.
However, another Indian-origin peer Lord Indarjit Singh warned that the new act could offer a legal route to discrimination against Muslims and, ultimately, against all non-Hindus.
“I appeal to our own government to work directly, and through the Commonwealth, to add to this positive momentum for tolerance and respect for all people, in a wonderful country,” he said. With agencies inputs