India citizenship law draws protesters to downtown Atlanta

Protesters march along Centennial Olympic Park Drive near CNN Center during the Americans United for Justice in India rally Sunday, January 26, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
caption arrowCaption
Protesters march along Centennial Olympic Park Drive near CNN Center during the Americans United for Justice in India rally Sunday, January 26, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Weeks of protests against a new citizenship law in India spread to Atlanta on Sunday as more than 1,000 people marched from CNN to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Protesters also planned to gather outside the Consulate General of India’s office in Sandy Springs. The groups sought to draw attention to a law approved by the Indian parliament last month that critics say is the latest in a series of actions against Muslims.

The peaceful march fell on the 70th anniversary of the Indian constitution. The demonstration follows widespread protests in India. About 30 people there have died.

“Today is Constitution Day, and the government is violating the constitution,” said Abdul Ismiel of Atlanta outside CNN Center.

caption arrowCaption
Protesters march along Centennial Olympic Park Drive near CNN Center during the Americans United for Justice in India rally on Sunday, January 26, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Protesters march along Centennial Olympic Park Drive near CNN Center during the Americans United for Justice in India rally on Sunday, January 26, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
caption arrowCaption
Protesters march along Centennial Olympic Park Drive near CNN Center during the Americans United for Justice in India rally on Sunday, January 26, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Last month India’s parliament approved the Citizenship Amendment Act, which expedited citizenship for migrants from several neighboring countries if they are Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsee or Jain. Muslims were not included.

Representatives of the Consulate General of India’s office could not be reached for comment Sunday. Indian officials have said the law is a humanitarian effort to help persecuted religious minorities.

Human rights advocates in the United States and elsewhere have said the law is blatantly discriminatory. Some have called for President Donald Trump to impose sanctions.

caption arrowCaption
Violent protests have erupted in India over a controversial citizenship bill. India's parliament has granted citizenship to non-Muslim migrants who entered the county illegally. The migrants came from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Critics said the bill undermines the Indian constitution. The bill now needs to be signed by the country's ceremonial president.

Critics have challenged the law in court. But that could take months, and last week India’s Supreme Court declined to put the law on hold.

A handful of counterprotesters who gathered near CNN said the law has been misconstrued. They said the law is not anti-Muslim. Instead, they say it’s an effort to aid minorities who have fled neighboring countries dominated by Muslims.

“I’m baffled,” Vivek Sharma of South Carolina said as he watched the larger protest from across the street. “The minorities in these countries have been persecuted a long time.”

“What we’re saying (with this law) is, you have a home,” Sharma said.

caption arrowCaption
Marchers proceed along Centennial Olympic Park Drive near CNN Center during the Americans United for Justice in India rally on Sunday, January 26, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Marchers proceed along Centennial Olympic Park Drive near CNN Center during the Americans United for Justice in India rally  on Sunday, January 26, 2020.  STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
caption arrowCaption
Marchers proceed along Centennial Olympic Park Drive near CNN Center during the Americans United for Justice in India rally on Sunday, January 26, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The citizenship law isn’t the only government act that has drawn criticism. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India also has stripped its only Muslim-majority state of its autonomy.

In another state, the government also has unveiled a new citizen registry that many fear will be used to discriminate against Muslims. India is building detention camps to hold those who cannot verify their citizenship.

Muslims account for about 200 million of India’s 1.3 billion people. An organizer of Sunday’s protest, who asked to remain anonymous because he fears retribution from India’s government, said the country is abandoning its secular history in favor of a system that favors the Hindu majority.

caption arrowCaption
A small group of Indians in support of the Citizen Amendment Act gather near CNN Center as a counterprotest during the Americans United for Justice in India rally Sunday, January 26, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

A  small group of Indians in support of the Citizen Amendment Act gather near CNN Center as a counterprotest during the Americans United for Justice in India rally  Sunday, January 26, 2020.  STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC
caption arrowCaption
A small group of Indians in support of the Citizen Amendment Act gather near CNN Center as a counterprotest during the Americans United for Justice in India rally Sunday, January 26, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

“Muslims have completely lost trust in this government,” he said. “They don’t believe a single word they say.”

On Sunday the protesters chanted and listened to speakers outside CNN before marching around Centennial Olympic Park to the civil rights museum and back. They waved signs with slogans like “stop genocide in India” and “defend Indian secular constitution.”

“They are coming for one community,” the organizer said. “But they will come for the others also.”

The New York Times and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

About the Author

Editors' Picks