India’s governing party has launched a video with animated Muslim characters on social media as part of a publicity blitz to try to bust “myths” around a new citizenship law that has sparked deadly protests.
The law has stoked concerns that Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government wants to marginalise India’s Muslim minority by making religion a basis of citizenship.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, passed by the Indian Parliament earlier this month, allows people of six religions from Muslim-majority Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan an easier path to citizenship.
The law has triggered nationwide protests, killing at least 25 people in almost two weeks of demonstrations and violence, forcing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to resort to social media messages.
The short video clip posted by the party shows two bearded men in traditional Muslim clothing, discussing the legislation before concluding that the country can only progress if there is “peace and brotherhood”.
देश के सभी मुसलमान भाई-बहनों से अपील है कि पहले खुद नागरिकता संशोधन अधिनियम को समझें और फिर दूसरों को भी समझाएं।
नहीं तो झूठ और भ्रम फैलाने वाले राजनीतिक दल अपने वोट बैंक के स्वार्थ के लिए हमें आपस में यूँ ही लड़ाते रहेंगे।
अफवाहों से बचें और सच जानें… pic.twitter.com/xbPQ9PXy6n
— BJP (@BJP4India) December 22, 2019
(Translation: We appeal to all Muslim brothers and sisters to first understand the Citizenship Amendment Act and make the others understand too. Otherwise, political parties will continue to spread lies and myths in order to make us fight amongst ourselves for their vote banks. Beware of rumours and know the truth.)
The right-wing government also carried an advertisement across all national dailies, with a “myths vs facts” explainer to show the law was not against India’s 200 million Muslims.
The advertisement also stated that there were no immediate plans to roll out a nationwide register of citizens, known as National Register of Citizens (NRC), which has stoked fears of Muslims and others unable to prove they are Indian becoming stateless.
Even if the register would be rolled out, “the guidelines would be framed such that no Indian citizen would face any harassment whatsoever”, the advertisement read.
Muslim groups, the opposition and others at home and abroad fear this forms part of Modi’s aim to remould the country as a Hindu nation, something his government denies.
In the coming days, the BJP said it will also contact more than 30 million families, organise countrywide rallies and hold at least 250 news conferences to dispel doubts over the new law.
Meanwhile, Indian authorities have cut mobile internet access in places and imposed emergency laws banning assemblies as protests against the new law rage on.
In a speech on Sunday, Modi sought to reassure the Muslim community, saying they “don’t need to worry at all” and laying emphasis on India’s diversity.
“The law does not impact 1.3 billion Indians, and I must assure Muslim citizens of India that this law will not change anything for them,” said Modi, adding that his government introduces reforms without any religious bias.