Dec. 9 (UPI) -- India's lower parliament passed a bill Tuesday to extend non-Muslim illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
Government supporters of the new law say it will give refuge to people fleeing religious persecution in neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but critics say it's unconstitutional because it doesn't allow Muslims the same rights as people from other religions.
The measure will now move to the upper house.
Among the mass protests against the bill, were Gauhati University students protesting in Assam, India.
Existing law has not had that pathway for citizenship.
Adopted partly from the U.S. Constitution, India's secular constitution establishes equal rights regardless of religion.
Critics of the bill say that it would be a move toward making India's 200 million Muslims second-class citizens and render many of them stateless.
"We are heading toward totalitarianism, a fascist state," said Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim lawmaker, who tore up a copy of the bill while speaking before parliament. "We are making India a theocratic country."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have ideological beliefs of India as a Hindu nation.
Over the summer, the National Register of Citizens requiring residents in the state of Assam to show proof that they came there decades ago, excluded nearly 2 million people, who were mostly Muslims.
Last month, India Home Minister Amit Shah said the NRC would extend to a National Register of Indian Citizens across the country, drawing more criticism over unfairly targeting Muslims.
"Together, the NRIC and the CAB constitute a pincer movement against India's Muslims," lawyer and commentator Gautam Bhatia told the Indian Express. "Their combined effect is to deny to Muslims equal moral membership in the polity. In the history of the 20th century, such legally-sanctioned regimes of discrimination have been seen before: In fascist states, the epitomes of morally and ethically bankrupt regimes."