WASHINGTON: Describing the Citizenship Amendment Bill as a "dangerous turn in the wrong direction", a federal US Commission on International Religious Freedom has sought American sanctions against Home Minister Amit Shah and other principal Indian leadership if the bill with the "religious criterion" is passed by both houses of Parliament.
The Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to provide Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan after facing religious persecution there, a little past midnight on Monday.
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 and facing religious persecution there, will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.
In a statement issued on Monday, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) alleged that the CAB enshrines a pathway to citizenship for immigrants that specifically exclude 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. The 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 said.
Shah on Monday introduced the controversial bill in Lok Sabha, where it was passed with 311 members favouring it and 80 voting against it. It will now be tabled in the Rajya Sabha for its nod.
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.
Shah asserted that the bill has the "endorsement of 130 crore Indian citizens" and rejected suggestions that the measure is anti-Muslims, saying it will give rights to persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
"Citizenship amendment bill has the endorsement of 130 crore citizens of the country as it was the part of the BJP manifesto in 2014 as well as 2019 Lok Sabha elections," he said. However, the bill has been opposed by the Congress, Trinamool Congress and other Opposition parties.
Noting that in conjunction with the ongoing National Register of Citizens (NRC) process in Assam and nationwide NRC that Home Minister Shah seeks to propose, the USCIRF said it "fears that the Indian government is creating a religious test for Indian citizenship that would strip citizenship from millions of Muslims".
It also said that for more than a decade now the Indian government has ignored the statements and annual reports of the USCIRF.
India from the days of the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime has consistently said that it does not recognise a third country's views or reports on its internal affairs. Based on this ground, India for more than a decade now has denied visas to USCIRF officials to travel to India for their on the ground assessment of the religious freedom in India.
Recommendations of the USCIRF are not enforceable. However, its recommendations are seriously taken into consideration by the US government in particular the State Department which is tasked with powers to take sanctionable actions against foreign entities and individuals for violation of religious freedom and human rights.
Meanwhile, a powerful Congressional Committee has also voiced concerns over the CAB, noting that any religious test for citizenship undermines pluralism, which is the core shared values for both India and the US.
"Religious pluralism is central to the foundations of both India and the United States and is one of our core shared values,” House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a tweet Monday afternoon. "Any religious test for citizenship undermines this most basic democratic tenet," tweeted the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The powerful Congressional committee also shared an article from The New York Times on the issue.
“It is the most significant move yet to profoundly alter India's secular nature enshrined by its founding leaders when the country gained independence in 1947,” the daily said in its news dispatch from India. (PTI)