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Tens of thousands of women across India have spearheaded protests against a controversial new citizenship law, which currently excludes Muslims from gaining citizenship, and could see millions of Muslim Indians declared illegal in their own country. 

The Citizenship Amendment Act will, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, give persecuted Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis, and Sikhs — but not Muslims — from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan the right to apply for Indian citizenship. 

Critics — the majority of whom are female students, activists, lawyers, housewives, mothers, and grandmothers — claim that the new legislation is unconstitutional because it makes religion the grounds for acquiring citizenship and is ultimately a venture by the government to make India a wholly Hindu nation. 

The new law also includes a heavily-contested nationwide citizenship test. 

The test, known as the NCR, will force people to prove their citizenship, in turn, putting Muslims — who form 14% of India’s 1.3 billion population — and other marginalized individuals at risk because they may be unable to meet the identity proof requirements.

Women in India have been particularly invested in the new law because they generally lack the documents needed to prove their citizenship.

Women typically do not have their names on property ownership papers, are less likely to have their original birth certificates, and often move away from their home once married.  

Nusrat Asra, a housewife from Delhi, has protested with thousands of other women every day for weeks. 

"I am not afraid of anything, I am not afraid of the police, I am not afraid of being beaten, I am here just to stand up for freedom,” Asra told the Guardian. “We are not fighting for any God or any political party; we are fighting for our rights. And I have brought my 12-year-old daughter here every day to teach her to stand up and fight for her rights too.”

Around 30 people have died in over a month of heavily-policed protests. 

Despite the deaths, India’s top court ruled Wednesday against immediately suspending the law. The government, instead, was given four weeks to reply to the 144 petitions contesting the law’s legitimacy. 

"We are happy with the court's response,” PK Kunhalikutty, a member of the Indian Union Muslim League, said, according to news publication DW. “It is up to the government now to clarify things.” 

The current protests follow similar female-led movements in India that have popped up over the past few years. 

In 2012, masses of women showed up to support and lead the anti-rape movement — part of the broader movement to combat violence against women and champion gender equality — following a shocking gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi. 

More recently, the Pinjra Tod, or Break the Cage campaign, saw Indian women unite in protest against strict regulations by hostel and university accommodations for female students. The campaign sought to abolish curfew times, some as early as 5:30 p.m., that have long attempted to restrict women from being in public spaces “in the name of safety.”

Women-led protests have also erupted globally.

In recent years, millions of women have engaged in protests against the election of Donald Trump, government repression in Venezuela, violence and war in Israel and Palestine, and femicide in Mexico.


Demand Equity

Women Are Spearheading Protests Against India’s Controversial New Citizenship Act

By Madeleine Keck