India’s supreme court delays citizenship law challenge

New Delhi, India; protest over Citizenship Law
Students and other protest against the police action against students of the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, Sunday night. | PTI

India’s supreme court has postponed hearings challenging the constitutionality of a new citizenship law which has sparked opposition and massive protests across the country.

The court said it would consider the pleas on January 22.

Protests and widespread condemnation have been growing against the Citizenship Amendment Act, with demonstrations erupting in India over the last week.

The new law applies to Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally but can demonstrate religious persecution in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims.

Critics say the law is part of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist-led government’s agenda to marginalise India’s 200 million Muslims and that it goes against the spirit of the country’s secular constitution.

Mr Modi has defended it as a humanitarian gesture.

The law’s passage last week follows a contentious citizenship registry process in north-eastern India’s Assam state intended to weed out people who entered the country illegally.

Nearly two million people in Assam were excluded from the list, about half Hindu and half Muslim, and have been asked to prove their citizenship or else be considered foreign.

India is building a detention centre for some of the tens of thousands of people the courts are expected to ultimately determine have entered illegally.

Its passage also came as an unprecedented crackdown continued in Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority area, which was stripped of special constitutional protections and its statehood in August.

Since then, movement and communications have been restricted in the region.

University students across India have been leading a campaign to have the citizenship law overturned.

On Sunday, marches by students at New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University and Aligarh Muslim University in Uttar Pradesh descended into chaos when police fired tear gas and beat unarmed protesters with wooden sticks.

Scores of students were injured. Police say they acted with restraint.

The police response to the protests has drawn widespread condemnation. It has also sparked a broader movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Demonstrations have erupted across the country, with thousands rallying in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, authorities tightened security restrictions, implementing a curfew in the north-eastern state of Assam, where ongoing protests have disrupted daily life in Gauhati, the state capital.

They also restricted assembly in a Muslim area in New Delhi where demonstrators torched a police booth and several vehicles on Tuesday.

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