Days before US President Donald Trump's visit to India, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a bitter criticism of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's anti-Muslim Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) which sparked large scale protests across India.
The controversial law provides a fast track to Indian citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Quickly after the CAA's passage, large scale protests broke out across India with the government instituting a violent crackdown against the protestors.
"In conjunction with a proposed nation-wide National Register of Citizens (NRC), there are fears that this law is part of an effort to create a religious test for Indian citizenship and could lead to the widespread disenfranchisement of Indian Muslims," the three-page USCIRF fact sheet emphasized.
The USCIRF quoted three United Nations Special Rapporteurs as saying that with the CAA in place, Muslims would primarily bear the punitive consequences of exclusion from the NRC which could include "statelessness, deportation, or prolonged detention."
The UN experts wer: Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues and Ms E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
The USCIRF pointed out that the citizenship changes are coming in the context of the growing prominence of the BJP's Hindutva ideology which views India as a Hindu state and Islam as a foreign and invading religion.
"The CAA and NRC must also be understood in the context of the growing prominence of the BJP's Hindutva ideology. This ideological frame views India as a Hindu state (with its definition of Hinduism inclusive of Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs) and Islam as a foreign and invading religion. Hindutva political rhetoric questions the legitimacy of Muslims' Indian citizenship and perpetuates the further marginalization of this faith community.
"The BJP Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP) Yogi Adityanath, for example, promised in 2005 to cleanse India of other religions, calling this the "century of Hindutva." A BJP member of the UP Legislative Assembly further argued in January 2018 that India will become a purely Hindu nation by 2024 and all Muslims who do not assimilate to Hindu culture will need to leave the country. This perspective renders Indian Muslims particularly vulnerable to exclusion from a nationwide NRC, regardless of their citizenship status."
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief.