Bangladeshi Ministers Scrap Visits to India Amid Deadly Protests Over Citizenship Law

Kamran Reza Chowdhury and Paritosh Paul
Dhaka and Kolkata, India
2019-12-12
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191212_BD-India_CAB_1000.JPG Police use water cannons to disperse demonstrators during a protest against a citizenship law in Guwahati city in the Indian state of Assam, Dec. 11, 2019.
Reuters

Updated at 9:20 a.m. ET on 2019-12-13

India assured Bangladesh on Thursday that diplomats would receive enhanced security after a convoy carrying a Bangladeshi envoy was attacked during protests against a new law, which would pave the way for non-Muslims from neighboring countries to become Indian citizens.

Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal also canceled their trips to India, officials said, as violence escalated around New Delhi’s passage on Wednesday of amendments to its Citizenship Law.

Acting Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Kamrul Ahsan summoned Riva Ganguly Das, the Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, to lodge a protest on Thursday after an angry crowd in Guwahati, the capital of Assam state in northeast India, attacked a convoy of vehicles of Assistant High Commissioner Shah Mohammad Tanvir Mansur.

A security vehicle was damaged but the diplomat was unharmed during the incident on Wednesday, officials said.

“Ms. Ganguly assured [us] that the concerned authorities of the Indian government were being immediately alerted to enhance security of the chancery and residence premises of the Bangladesh Assistant High Commission in Guwahati,” according to a statement from the Bangladeshi foreign ministry.

Momen was scheduled to visit Delhi on Thursday, while Kamal was expected to fly to the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya the next day.

“The honorable foreign minister had to cancel his India trip for some unavoidable circumstances,” Tohidul Islam, a senior information officer at the foreign ministry, told BenarNews.

He did not explain what he meant by “unavoidable circumstances,” and said the foreign minister was expected to attend official national celebrations in Bangladesh on Dec. 14 and Dec. 16.

Sharif Mahmud Apu, the home minister’s information officer, told BenarNews that Khan had been scheduled to make the trip at the invitation of Meghalaya’s chief minister.

On Thursday, at least two people were killed during protests in Assam state in northeast India, which has been the hub of unrest, as police clashed with demonstrators, local reports quoted hospital officials as saying. Five people were also brought in to the hospital with bullet wounds, officials said.

Momen expressed disappointment over the eruption of violence after his meeting with U.S. Ambassador Earl Miller, as he emphasized that, historically, India has been a religiously tolerant country.

“They believe in secularism, he said. “Any deviation would weaken India’s historical position.”

The protesters were demonstrating against the Indian parliament’s adoption the day before of a bill to amend the law so as to grant citizenship to members of religious minority groups from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan who are seeking refuge in India and who entered the country before September 2014, reports said.

The bill, expected to be signed into law soon, is controversial because it excludes Muslims from those countries from applying for Indian citizenship. The upper house of India’s parliament passed the bill Wednesday, days after the lower house vote in favor of it.

The amendment to the law was among key campaign promises by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads India’s ruling coalition and was re-elected last year.

Critics of the bill says it excludes followers of Islam, a religion practiced by more than 200 million Indian citizens – the country’s largest religious minority group. For the first time, the bill introduces religion as a criterion for citizenship in the world’s most populous democracy, which was founded on secular principles.

But the BJP has argued that the bill is not discriminatory because it would offer a path to citizenship for non-Muslims fleeing alleged persecution in the three Muslim-majority neighboring countries.

The bill allows Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – members of minorities considered by the Indian government as historically persecuted on religious grounds – to apply for Indian citizenship.

According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a noted Indian political scientist, the amendment to the law violates the constitution.

The citizenship bill is “the first legal articulation that India is, you might say, a homeland for Hindus,” he told the Washington Post, adding that it sends a signal that Muslims are not equal to others in India.

CORRECTION: An earlier version contained wrong information about the number of Indian Muslims.

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