India’s Supreme Court has postponed hearing pleas challenging the constitutionality of a new citizenship law critics say violates the country’s secular constitution and has sparked massive protests.
The court on Wednesday asked the federal government to respond to a batch of petitions challenging the amendment to a 1955 citizenship law and said it will hear the case next on January 22.
Among the pleas the top court turned down was a petition seeking to stop the implementation of the new law, which lawyers said was based on religion.
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) makes it easier for non-Muslims from the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who settled in India prior to 2015 to gain Indian citizenship.
Thousands of people have protested, saying the law is anti-Muslim and the latest in a series of measures by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government to marginalise India’s 200 million Muslims.
“We want a stay order in the CAA case,” said Kapil Sibal, a lawyer for petitioners who challenged the law in court, adding it was in conflict with parts of the Indian constitution guaranteeing equality to all.
Supreme Court Chief Justice SA Bobde refused requests to hold off the implementation of the law, which came into effect last week.
Modi’s government says the law was intended to address the persecution of minorities such as Hindus, Sikhs and Christians in the Muslim-majority countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.