New Delhi: With protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act spreading across India, the United States on Monday asked New Delhi to respect the right of peaceful assembly and also urged protestors to refrain from violence.
Stating that the US was closely monitoring developments, a State Department spokesperson said in a statement reported by news agency ANI, “We urge authorities to protect and respect the right of peaceful assembly,”. The spokesperson added, “We also urge protesters to refrain from violence.”
The statement comes in the aftermath of police violence against students of Jamia Millia Islamia on Sunday. The police said they had acted to control a “mob” at the site of a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act by students. Incidents of violence and arson were reported at the site. The students claimed that they had not participated in any violence, and Delhi police on Monday arrested ten people, none of whom were students, for the violence.
Last week, the US state department had noted that “religious freedom and equal treatment under the law are fundamental principles of our two democracies”.
“The US urges India to protect the rights of its religious minorities in keeping with India’s Constitution and democratic values,” the spokesperson said after India’s parliament approved the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB).
The legislation allows for non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who arrived in India before December 2014, to apply for citizenship if they claim to have fled due to religious persecution.
The US ambassador at large for international religious freedom, Sam Brownback had also expressed concern about the implications of the CAB before its final passage in Rajya Sabha.
“One of India’s great strengths is its Constitution. As a fellow democracy, we respect India’s institutions, but are concerned about the implications of the CAB Bill,” Brownback said in a tweet.
“We hope the government will abide by its constitutional commitments, including on religious freedom,” he said in his tweet.
One of #India’s great strengths is its Constitution. As a fellow democracy, we respect India’s institutions, but are concerned about the implications of the #CABBill. We hope the government will abide by its constitutional commitments, including on religious freedom.
— Ambassador Sam Brownback (@IRF_Ambassador) December 13, 2019
The US administration’s concern is much muted compared to the statement of a US federal commission to propose sanctions against Indian home minister Amit Shah for steering the legislation.
A few hours after the Lok Sabha passed the Bill on December 9, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) tweeted concern that the Bill “undermines the most basic democratic tenet” of religious pluralism. The panel pointed out that any religious test for citizenship would be contrary to religious pluralism which was described as “one of our core shared values”.
The Indian ministry of external affairs had responded by saying that the US Commission for International Religious Freedom’s statement was “neither accurate nor warranted”. “Neither the CAB nor the National Register of Citizens (NRC) process seeks to strip citizenship from any Indian citizen of any faith. Suggestions to that effect are motivated and unjustified. Every nation, including the United States, has the right to enumerate and validate its citizenry, and to exercise this prerogative through various policies,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said on December 10.
There had been a more gentle reaction to the HFAC concerns. “We have reached out to the members of the US Congress, we have reached out to other stakeholders to share our perspective on the bill. We feel that given our strong engagement with the Congress and other stakeholders in the US on matters of mutual interest, we expect that the members of the US Congress will take into account our views before drawing a conclusion on the bill,” Kumar said, two days later.