India - International Solidarity: Sri Lankan human rights defenders for LGBTIQ persons’ rights express solidarity with protests in India

We the undersigned are defenders of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer and non-binary (LGBTIQ+) persons and communities and we are engaged in the struggle for equality and justice for all people across Sri Lanka. We wish to express our solidarity with people across India who are fighting for the protection of their constitution, who are protesting the unconstitutional Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Registry of Citizens (NRC), even in the face of police violence, which we are alarmed by.

We are deeply concerned by the promise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party, to implement the NRC across India, after it was ‘piloted’ in Assam. Its implementation in Assam, with a final list of eligible citizens published by August 2019, was highly controversial, with around two million people residing in Assam excluded from the final list.

We condemn all attempts to implement the NRC, and absolutely condemn the attempt to implement it nationally. We believe it goes against the secular and democratic nature of the modern state of India as we know it. As we saw in Assam, it was exclusionary to transpersons, where around 2000 trans persons were not on the final list. The NRC in Assam forced persons to choose between ‘male’ and ‘female’ and further excluded those who could not produce original family documents, from before 1971. Many trans persons would not have access to such documents, since many have fractured relationships with their natal families, have fled their natal homes as a result of family violence and so on.

We believe that this makes the NRC exclusionary, not just to transpersons, but to many others who know nothing but India as their home, and deserve to have the rights granted to all citizens. Many people may not have access to the documents which the government claims are the only documents which can prove your right to citizenhood in India, under this new intended system.

It fixes the right of citizenship to lineage and ancestry, which is both an antiquated as well as unjust way of understanding citizenship, in a world in which it is universally accepted that migration is a human right.

The CAA explicitly discriminates against those from the Muslim community. Where it claims to grant asylum to those from persecuted religious or ethnic minorities, it specifically excludes anyone belonging to the faith of Islam. This is an explicit exclusion of persecuted Muslims in the region, such as those belonging to the Rohingya community, who have a right to seek asylum in India or any other country.

We are worried that this is simply a consolidation of a larger campaign to claim India as a country for Hindus, by casting doubt on the citizenship, patriotism and loyalty of Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and others. These laws are extremely dangerous to people belonging to minorities both within and outside India.

We are extremely concerned about what this means for Muslims living in India, who have enjoyed their rights as citizens, whose citizenship may be questioned or even stripped, and we are concerned about what this means for asylum-seekers fleeing persecution in neighbouring countries, who might have looked to India for asylum. We are concerned for the safety of LGBTIQ asylum seekers, as well as LGBTIQ Muslims in India and all others who will be affected by these new laws.

As Sri Lankans, we are all too aware of the realities of fleeing war and persecution, as well as the consequences of discriminatory citizenship law (The Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 explicitly excluded Sri Lankan Tamils of South Indian origin from citizenship). Since a pact signed between our two governments in 1964, many thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils of South Indian descent have been rendered stateless and expelled from Sri Lanka ‘back to’ India by successive Sri Lankan governments. Many thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils also fled the civil war in Sri Lanka and have found safety in India. We are deeply concerned about what would become of these communities, and others like them, were the CAA and the NRC to be implemented as they are also excluded from the terms of citizenship.

We believe these laws go against India’s secular constitution as well as violate the values which South Asian people’s movements have upheld, and have struggled to establish, since our victories in our anti-colonial struggles for self-determination and independence.

We affirm the values of multiculturalism and regional cooperation between our countries, which requires open borders, especially for protecting those being persecuted in their own countries, regardless of their faith or ethnicity.

We are concerned about the precedent these laws may set, not just within India, but outside India, in the wider South Asian region as well. We cannot afford to normalize the implementation of exclusionary citizen registries, nor laws which legitimize narrow and discriminatory definitions of citizenship, in a region which has always been historically diverse.

We condemn the police violence and mass arrests and detention of peaceful protesters across India.
We condemn the government’s attempts to block communication and information-sharing through internet shut-downs and blocking other modes of communication.
We affirm the rights of all people living in India, to protest. We affirm they are all rights-bearers, and have the right to live free from violence and with dignity.

20 December 2019

Signed:

Kumudini Samuel
Subha Wijesiriwardena
Thiyagaraja Waradas
Pasan Jayasinghe
Ephraim Shadrach
Manju Hemal
Sherman de Rose
Kaveesha Coswatte
Tharindi Devasurendra
Thilini Perera
Sachini Perera
Prabhashana Hasthidhara
K. Antony Seelan (Dharsiga)
M. Moliyalagan (Thenmoli)
K. Mahinthan
Appathurai Mary

Organizations:
Women and Media Collective
Chathra: Sri Lanka LGBTIQ Network
Community Welfare and Development Fund
Jaffna Sangam