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Here’s why people are protesting India’s citizenship bill

Click to play video: 'India reacts to controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill'
India reacts to controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill
WATCH: India reacts to controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill – Dec 12, 2019

The streets of India were once again filled with thousands of demonstrators on Monday as protests continue over the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) passed last week.

On Sunday, violence erupted at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi after police stormed the school’s library, firing tear gas at students and protesters.

Three buses were set on fire during the chaos, and dozens were reportedly injured.

Here’s a look at what’s going on:

What is the Citizenship Amendment Bill, and why are people protesting?

The CAB is an amendment to the Indian citizenship law, a 64-year-old piece of legislation that bars illegal migrants from becoming citizens in India.

Under the old law, anyone deemed an illegal immigrant in India could be deported or put in jail.

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The old law also included provisions that state a person must live in India or work for the federal government for at least 11 years before they are eligible to apply for citizenship.

Last week, the CAB was signed into law. The new bill will expedite citizenship for six religious minorities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — from the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, if the individuals arrived before 2015.

The bill, however, has received harsh backlash and is the catalyst for the ongoing protests, now in their fifth day.

Opponents claim the bill is discriminatory and exclusionary, as it does not extend the same rights to Muslim migrants.

Click to play video: 'Protests against India citizenship law continues for sixth straight day'
Protests against India citizenship law continues for sixth straight day

Critics say the CAB violates India’s secular constitution, which prohibits religious discrimination and says all people are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection under the law.

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People in the northeastern state of Assam, located along the Bangladeshi border, have also expressed concern that migrants who came to the country illegally will move to the region and dilute the culture and political sway of Indigenous tribal people.

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have denied the bill has any religious bias and say the new law is meant to help minority groups facing persecution in the three nearby Muslim countries.

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah said the law is not anti-Muslim because it does not affect the existing path to citizenship available to all communities. He said it seeks to address the difficulties of Hindus and other minorities who have suffered persecution in Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

‘Fundamentally discriminatory in nature’

On Friday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement calling the bill “fundamentally discriminatory in nature.”

Jeremy Laurence, a spokesperson with the office of the high commissioner, said the bill will have “a discriminatory effect on people’s access to nationality” and that it undermines the country’s commitment to equality before the law enshrined in the constitution.

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“All migrants, regardless of their migration status, are entitled to respect, protection and fulfilment of their human rights,” he said.

Laurence said the bill is expected to be reviewed by India’s Supreme Court, which he hopes will “consider carefully the compatibility of the law with India’s international human rights obligations.”

Protests spreading

Assam has seen some of the most violent protests since demonstrations began there on Thursday.

In an update on Sunday, state police said six people have died and more than 100 have been injured as a result of the protests.

Click to play video: 'Protests rage in India over citizenship law leaving buses, cars torched'
Protests rage in India over citizenship law leaving buses, cars torched

On Sunday, thousands gathered to protests at Jamia Millia Islamia University.

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Since last week, the demonstrations have spread across the country to Bhopal, Jaipur, Ladakh, Kerala, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Lucknow.

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Across the country, vehicles and railway stations have been set on fire in the demonstrations.

Appeals for calm

In a series of tweets on Monday, Modi called the violent protests “unfortunate and deeply distressing” and called for calm.

“Debate, discussion and dissent are essential parts of democracy but, never has damage to public property and disturbance of normal life been a part of our ethos,” he wrote.

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Click to play video: 'Protesters boycott exams, hunger strike against India’s Citizenship Act'
Protesters boycott exams, hunger strike against India’s Citizenship Act

Modi continued, saying India cannot allow “vested interest groups” to divide the county and “create disturbance.”

“This is the time to maintain peace, unity and brotherhood,” he wrote. “It is my appeal to everyone to stay away from any sort of rumour-mongering and falsehoods.”

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Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress party, called the bill a weapon of “mass polarization unleashed by fascists on India” but called for an end to the violence.

“The best defence against these dirty weapons is peaceful, non-violent Satyagraha,” he wrote. “I stand in solidarity with all those protesting peacefully against the CAB & NRC.”

What happens next?

In a tweet posted Monday, Amnesty International called on Indian authorities to “respect the right to dissent by peaceful protesters.”

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“Students have the right to protest,” the tweet reads. “Violence against peacefully protesting students in India — or anywhere else — can’t be justified under any circumstances.”

Click to play video: 'Protests flare as India passes controversial citizenship law'
Protests flare as India passes controversial citizenship law

Meanwhile, India’s Chief Justice Sharad Bobde told the BBC on Monday that the Supreme Court, which is expected to review the bill, will only intervene if “the atmosphere settles down.”

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He called for student protesters not to take the law into their own hands, saying the “courts can’t do anything right now.”

“Let the riots stop,” he said.

— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters

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