The Catholic Church in India, while stating that religion should never be the criterion for citizenship of a country, has urged the Narendra Modi government to engage in dialogue with those who are opposing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
In a statement, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), said the ongoing controversy, demonstrations and counter- demonstrations over the act was a cause of “great anxiety” for all citizens, and “could harm the country”.
The act is aimed at providing citizenship to illegal migrants, excluding Muslims, who have faced religious persecution in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and who have entered India before December 31, 2014.
Cardinal Gracias said religion should not be used as the yardstick to grant citizenship to anyone.
“There is a danger that there could be a polarisation of our people along religious lines, which is very harmful for the country. Religion should never be the criterion for citizenship of a country. Nor is violence a solution when there is a difference of opinion,” he added.
He also said it is necessary that the government holds dialogues with those opposing the Act, and comes 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. These values which Our Lord brought to humankind in Bethlehem should be paramount in our hearts and minds at this time,” the Cardinal said.
For the last few days, there have also been processions mostly led by the ruling BJP to express support to the legislation.
While the act has been made applicable across the nation except in some states and areas of the Northeast where the inner-line permit system and the Sixth Schedule are in place, there have been chief ministers who have openly said they would not implement the legislation in their respective states.