MUMBAI (Reuters) - A new Indian law that grants citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who fled Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan prior to 2015 has led to violent demonstrations.
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the citizenship bill late on Thursday, signing it into law, an official statement said.
Clearance of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill triggered widespread protests in eastern state of Assam, as protesters said it would convert thousands of illegal immigrants into legal residents.
Some Muslims also protested against the law as it does not give the same rights to citizenship as members of other faiths, a move critics say undermines the secular constitution.
Passage of the bill was a key election promise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, re-energising his nationalist, Hindu support base.
Modi had promised that his party would grant citizenship to the six communities who according to the government have historically faced persecution on grounds of religion in the three Muslim-dominated countries. Lawmakers belonging to his party voted in favour of the bill.
They accuse Modi’s government of drafting rules to favour its hardline Hindu agenda aimed at disturbing permanent settlements belonging to Muslims.
Opposition parties say the law is discriminatory as it singles out Muslims, who make up nearly 15 percent of population. The government says that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are Muslim-majority countries, so Muslims cannot be treated as persecuted minorities.
Rights organisations say Modi-supporting lawmakers have cleared the bill to justify deportation of thousands of Muslims living in the northeastern state of Assam and unable to provide documents to prove Indian citizenship.
The law does not clarify why minority migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are favoured over those fleeing Sri Lanka and Myanmar from where minority Muslims have sought refuge in India.
The law has been challenged in India’s Supreme Court by a Muslim political party, lawyers and rights groups on the grounds that it violates the secular constitution.
More than 500 eminent Indian jurists, lawyers, academics and actors, have signed a statement condemning the legislation.
Additional reporting Devjyot Ghoshal, Suchitra Mohanty in New Delhi, Zarir Hussain in Guwahati, Editing by Hugh Lawson