Modi’s India: Between Hindu Traditionalism and Coronavirus

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Giovanni Sale, SJ

Paid Article

Two serious emergencies are currently rocking India. One is medical, the coronavirus emergency. The other is political, and involves changes to citizenship laws. They are of a different nature and concern different areas, even if somehow connected. They are dangerous, insidious developments challenging the survival and unity of the second most populous country in the world and he third largest economy in Asia, after China and Japan.

India has a population of about 1.3 billion people, half of whom are under 25 years old. The country has a volatile economy and a large part of the population (mainly rural) lives below the poverty line, yet it is estimated that in 2030 its inhabitants will number more than one and a half billion. This conjecture takes into account the increase in labor flows from the countryside to the cities, and also climate change, which in the not too distant future could cause natural disasters and migration from neighboring countries.

In this article we will talk about these aspects separately, even though since January they have crossed paths in the chronology and the emerging tragedy, which are narrated – as the Indian writer Arundhati Roy[1] does in her substantial output – one next to the other, one inside the other. In any case, as is evident, the two emergencies together are potentially explosive for a country that is as divided and fragile as India is today.

The new citizenship law

While China was fighting the new coronavirus in Wuhan, the Indian government, as early as January 2020, was already in conflict with hundreds of thousands of citizens (mostly Muslims) who were protesting against the approval by Parliament (125 votes in favor and 105 against) of a new citizenship law, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which discriminates against Muslims.

The legislation that received presidential assent on December 12, 2019, effectively amends the law on Indian citizenship, introducing exceptions for those who belong to six religious groups – Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Janists, Parsees and Christians – and come from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. For these, the procedure required to obtain citizenship is simplified. If before the reform, in fact, to acquire citizenship a foreigner had to have lived in the country for at least 11 years, now for those categories of people six years are sufficient, that is, almost half the time required for others, first and foremost Muslims.

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