New Delhi: Just days ahead of US president Donald Trump’s visit to India, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has released its India factsheet focusing essentially on the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act.
As the Modi government gears to put the country’s “best” face on display – even constructing walls to hide slums – the USCIRF in its release points at the problems that the CAA and the impending National Register of Citizens bring.
The USCIRF describes itself as an independent, bipartisan federal government entity. It was established by the US Congress to monitor, analyse, and report on threats to religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the US government and is in place to “deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief.”
The report highlights BJP’s anti-Muslim sentiment influencing the laws of the land.
The release also expresses concerns that the CAA serves as a protective measure for non-Muslims in case of exclusion from the NRC. It links the politicisation of the laws by the BJP to the fact that the party’s support for the NRC process quickly faltered in Assam when both Muslims and Hindus were excluded.
Quoting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader Mohan Bhagwat who said, “No Hindu will be expelled even if [that individual’s] name is missing from [the] NRC,” the report accuses BJP leaders of changing their position and argues that the leaders claimed that the finalised Assam NRC list needed to be “re-verified” as it was “full of errors”.
Holding the BJP government accountable for the inadequacy of remedies for those excluded, the release said, “To date, the government has not yet provided notification of the final NRC list, preventing individuals from appealing their exclusion from the NRC in the Foreigners’ Tribunals.”
Highlighting the process of recourse for those who are not recognised as citizens of India, the USCIRF release focuses on Foreigners’ Tribunals. It calls deems them “lacking adequate oversight, transparency, or an appeal process for decisions rendered”. The USCIRF also holds that Foreigners Tribunals also lack professionals with qualifications to serve on the Tribunals and strictly blames the government of India for lowering the eligibility criteria and failing to provide adequate training to those manning the tribunals.
The commission highlights that the Foreigners’ Tribunals could be used to target Muslims, who it holds are already perceived to be foreigners. The release also argues that the “CAA, however, does not require members of the listed non-Muslim religious groups to provide any proof of persecution, yet omits Muslim minority communities such as Shi’a and Ahmadi Muslims who have faced severe persecution in Afghanistan and Pakistan due to their faith.
This report comes as another blow at a time when the CAA is being debated on an international level, from the legislation being questioned in the European Parliament, to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressing concern over it, to US Congress leaders and cities like Seattle and Cambridge calling upon India to repeal the Act.
Amnesty International has called the CAA a “clear violation” of the constitution, supplemented by nationwide protests that tell the tale of resentment and anger coming from a massive section of the population that finds the law discriminatory.
The release also highlights the language of hatred and communalism used by the likes of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath.
It also records how Uttar Pradesh’s BJP MLA Surendra Singh went on record in January 2018 and claimed 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. Calling such statements and legislations exclusionary, the report claims that Indian Muslims are particularly vulnerable to exclusion from a nationwide NRC, regardless of their citizenship status.
Strongly in opposition to the CAA, the report also states that the NRC process in Assam demonstrates that Indian citizens could well be stripped of their citizenship in a nationwide NRC and clearly expresses concerns on how there is legal protection for non-Muslims in place under the CAA, but no safeguard for Indian Muslims bereft of documentation.
It also predicts that with the kind of laws in place and the cementing of new legislations, by saying that “any future NRC process would largely impact Muslims alone”.