British Columbia

Surrey residents add voices to outcry over India citizenship law

The legislation allows landed immigrants fleeing religious persecution to seek citizenship but doesn't apply to Muslims. Protesters in B.C. are asking Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to denounce the law.

Protesters in B.C. are asking Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to denounce the law as discriminatory

Residents in Surrey protest a new citizenship law in India at Holland Park on Dec. 22, 2019. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Dozens of residents in Surrey, B.C., protested in solidarity Sunday with those in India and around the world to condemn what they call anti-Muslim legislation.

There is widespread unrest in India following the passing of a new citizenship law. It law allows Hindus, Christians and other religious minorities who are in India illegally to become citizens if they can show they were persecuted because of their religion in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It does not apply to Muslims.

At least 23 people have died during clashes between demonstrators and police in northern India. Here in Canada, protesters like Itrath Syed say it's important to speak out about the law.

"It's a very important moment for us to stand up globally, and resist this law," Syed said from Holland Park in Surrey on Sunday at a rally organized by a group called Indians Abroad for Pluralist India.

It was one of several rallies held across Canada about the new citizenship law.

Gurpreet Singh was one of the organizers of the Surrey rally and says the new law is discriminatory.

"You cannot discriminate people on the basis of their religion," he said. "If you have accepted refugees, you cannot just say Muslims are not welcome, but everybody else can come."

Watch protesters speak out at Holland Park in Surrey:

Protesters in Surrey speak out against a new citizenship law in India that they say is discriminatory. 0:42

Critics have slammed the law as a violation of India's secular constitution and have called it the latest effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to marginalize the country's 200 million Muslims.

Modi has defended the law as a humanitarian gesture.

Annie Ohana, who attended the rally in Surrey, says the violence around the law is unsettling.

"State violence has really ramped up, and people are being killed over simple dissension to a law," she said.

Protesters in Surrey say the new Indian citizenship law unfairly discriminates against Muslims. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Protesters in Surrey are joining the call for the act to be repealed. Syed says it is a threat to global democracy.

"We need to stand up against this in principle no matter where we see this, because this goes against the basic democratic rights, basic human rights, and it goes against the principle of the equality of citizenship, and that's the principle that we have to be here to defend," she said.

She and others also want Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to speak out against the citizenship law.

"Mr. Trudeau should break his silence," said Singh. "He should step up. He should say something, he has not uttered a single word."

The Canadian government has issued a travel warning for the area. India's Supreme Court will review the constitutionality of the bill in January.

With files from Jon Hernandez