India on Tuesday slammed the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) over its remarks on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019 stating that the statement made was “neither accurate nor warranted”.
The contentious Citizenship Bill, which was passed in the Lok Sabha shortly after midnight on Tuesday amid massive furore from the Opposition, had attracted the attention of the federal US commission on international religious freedom, which termed it a “dangerous turn in wrong direction”.
The body had also sought American sanctions against Home Minister Amit Shah if the bill is passed in the Parliament.
In a statement issued on Monday, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom or USCIRF said that it was deeply troubled over the passage of the bill in Lok Sabha. “If the CAB passes in both houses of Parliament, the US government should consider sanctions against the Home Minister Amit Shah and other principal leadership,” the commission suggested.
“USCIRF is ‘deeply troubled’ by the passage of the CAB, originally introduced by Home Minister Shah, in the Lok Sabha given the religion criterion in the bill,” it added.
USCIRF alleged that the CAB enshrines a pathway to citizenship for immigrants that specifically excludes Muslims, setting a legal criterion for citizenship based on religion.
“The CAB is a dangerous turn in the wrong direction; it runs counter to India’s rich history of secular pluralism and the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law regardless of faith,” it said.
Defending the bill, the Ministry of External Affairs reiterated the Government’s stance saying that CAB provides expedited consideration for Indian citizenship to persecuted religious minorities already in India from certain contiguous countries.
The Bill seeks to address their current difficulties and meet their basic human rights, it said.
Shah while introducing the bill had made it clear that people belonging to any religion should not have any fear under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government as he asserted that the bill will give relief to those minorities who have been living a painful life after facing persecution in neighbouring countries.
However, the bill has been opposed by the Congress, Trinamool Congress and other opposition parties, who have termed it as “anti-minority” and “unconstitutional”.
According to the proposed legislation, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, till December 31, 2014, facing religious persecution there, will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.
The MEA further said that neither the Citizenship Amendment Bill nor the National Register of Citizens (NRC) seek to strip citizenship from any Indian citizen of any faith.
Every nation, including the US, has the right to enumerate and validate its citizenry and to exercise this prerogative through various policies, it added.
The US Commission had last month alleged that close to two million long-time residents of Assam, under the NRC exercise, might soon be deemed stateless and they are being stripped of their citizenship “without a fair, transparent, and well-regulated” process.
The National Register of Citizens (NCR) list, which was published on August 31, in the state, had left out more than 19 lakh people from the list.
In a report on the religious freedom implications of the NRC, the USCIRF noted that 1.9 million names of residents of Assam have been left off the updated list and expressed concerns about how the exercise is being used to target and disenfranchise the Muslim population.
USCIRF chair Tony Perkins said the updated NRC and subsequent actions of the Indian government are essentially creating “a religious test for citizenship” to target the vulnerable Muslim community, and urged the Indian government to protect the rights of all of its religious minorities as enshrined in the Constitution.