Cardinal Gracias says religion should not be criterion for citizenship

A protest rally against the Citizen Amendment Act in Chennai, India, on Dec. 28, 2019.

Since December 9, protests and violence have erupted across India against a recent law which allows non-Muslim minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who settled in India prior to 2015 to obtain Indian citizenship.

“Religion should never be the criterion for citizenship of a country. Nor is violence a solution when there is a difference of opinion.”  Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop Bombay, made the statement on Friday regarding the controversy and protests roiling India over the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Protests and violence

Since December 9, protests and violence have erupted across India against the law which allows non-Muslim minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who settled in India prior to 2015 to obtain Indian citizenship.

Muslims make up some 14% of India’s population.  Critics say the exclusion of Muslims is discriminatory and that the award of citizenship based on religion is an attack on the secular constitution.

“The ongoing controversy and demonstrations and counter-demonstrations concerning the Citizenship Amendment Act is a cause of great anxiety for all citizens and could harm the country,” Cardinal Gracias, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), wrote in a December 27 press statement posted on the archdiocesan website. 

Danger

“There is a danger,” he warned, “that there could be a polarization of our peoples along religious lines, which is very harmful for the country.”

Many Muslim students, non-Hindu groups and Hindu intellectuals took to the streets to protest the controversial legislation.  Some Catholic leaders joined them and have been detained as a result.

At least 25 people have been killed and thousands have been injured in protests across the country since the law was adopted on Dec. 11.

Cardinal Gracias suggested the government dialogue with “those opposing the Act, and come to an agreement about the way forward with justice, equity and fairness”.   “There is no harm in backtracking, changing course if this is necessary for the good of the country and our people.”  

“The time of Christmas is a time for peace, justice and unity,” he said, adding that these values, “which Our Lord brought to humankind in Bethlehem should be paramount in our hearts and minds at this time.”