New Delhi: Days before United States President Donald Trump is due in India, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a fact sheet on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
“There are serious concerns that the CAA serves as a protective measure for non-Muslims in case of exclusion from a nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC),” the USCIRF says. “This purpose is evident from ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians’ rhetoric. With the CAA in place, Muslims would primarily bear the punitive consequences of exclusion from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) which could include ‘statelessness, deportation, or prolonged detention,’ according to three United Nations Special Rapporteurs.”
However, official sources in New Delhi said the Citizenship Amendment Act was an internal matter that would stay. “Citizenship Amendment Act is a done deal. It’s not going to change. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also made it clear that India will not budge an inch on this issue,” said the source in response to USCIRF’s comments on the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
On the possibilities that US President Donald Trump might raise uncomfortable issues like mediation during visit, an official spokesperson said, “On all these issues our position is well known to the U.S. side. Time and again we have communicated with them — the State Department, the White House and the Congress — about our sensitivities. Our position is well known and we hope that things will go on smoothly during the visit. And, we don’t see any such problem.”
The report raised serious concerns about comments from various BJP leaders about the party’s intention to create a new, exclusively Hindu country in India.
The USCIRF report also highlighted comments from various members of the ruling BJP who expressed plans to exclude Muslims from India.
“Hindutva political rhetoric questions the legitimacy of Muslims’ Indian citizenship and perpetuates the further marginalisation of this faith community. The Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath, for example, promised in 2005 to cleanse India of other religions, calling this the ‘century of Hindutva’,” said the USCIRF.
The USCIRF report also cited extensively from concerns expressed by the UN reports and observations that have described the controversial new citizenship law as biased against the minority Muslim community of India.
A Wednesday tweet from the USCIRF— which is an independent bi-partisan commission established by the U.S. Congress — calls the CAA “a significant downward turn in religious freedom” in India.
The USCIRF fact sheet says of the CAA: “The law’s passage sparked large-scale protests across the country that provoked a harsh and deadly crackdown by police forces.”
“A wide variety of political parties, non-governmental organisations (NGO), and religious groups also submitted petitions to the Supreme Court of India challenging the CAA’s constitutionality, arguing that it, in particular, violates Section 14 (equality before the law) of the Indian Constitution… Alongside the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee similarly expressed their concern about the law,” the fact sheet says. There is also a reference to Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s comments. He is quoted as saying the government would “selectively throw out all infiltrators.”
On Friday morning, USCIRF tweeted out a fact sheet on religious freedom in China, saying, “USCIRF’s new fact sheet on China’s regulation of religious groups provides a brief overview of the new regulation and explains why it marks a significant escalation in the Chinese government’s ongoing crackdown on religious freedom.”
India is a Tier 2 country in terms of religious freedom (the second poorest ranking group) and China is a Tier 1 ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (the category that fares poorest in terms of religious freedoms) as per current U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) rankings.