US Commission on International Religious Freedom expresses concern over CAA
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and an invited panel of experts on Wednesday conducted a hearing that focused on both India’s new citizenship law and the Rohingya issue in Myanmar.Updated: Mar 10, 2020 14:49 IST
Members of an independent body mandated by the US Congress to monitor the state of religious freedom around the world have expressed concern over India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act, also called CAA, saying it could result in the “wide-scale disenfranchisement” of Muslims.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and an invited panel of experts on Wednesday conducted a hearing that focused on both India’s new citizenship law and the Rohingya issue in Myanmar. Ashutosh Varshney, an expert present at the hearing, said the Indian law amounted to a move to narrow the democracy’s secular definition of citizenship.
Azeem Ibrahim, who served as an adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, was present at the public hearing and testified on the situation in Myanmar, while also speaking on CAA. “The new citizenship law is aimed at Muslims and those from the poorest sections of India’s caste system, (and) undermines the non-confessional basis of the Indian Constitution,” said Ibrahim, of the Center for Global Policy that focuses exclusively on US foreign policy implications for Muslim-majority countries.
And the law, “will create identifiable groups who are denied the basic right of citizenship”, he argued.
A website linked to Ibrahim says: “Over the years, Dr Ibrahim has advised numerous world leaders on strategy and policy development with his most recent role being the Strategic Policy Advisor to the Chairman of Pakistan’s PTI party, Prime Minister Imran Khan.”
Khan has repeatedly criticised the Indian citizenship law. “We are worried there not only could be a refugee crisis, we are worried it could lead to a conflict between two nuclear-armed countries,” he has said.
The Indian government has maintained that CAA is an internal matter and stressed that the goal is to protect oppressed minorities of neighbouring countries.
USCIRF has struggled to find the kind of global recognition and respect commanded by other genuinely bipartisan US bodies. Indian-descent Anurima Bhargava, one of the USCIRF commissioners, set the tone for the hearing on Wednesday, saying that together with the planned National Population Register (NPR) and the potential National Register of Citizens (NRC), CAA was feared to “result in the wide-scale disenfranchisement of Indian Muslims”.
Varshney, an Indian-descent academic, said: “The threat is serious and the implications quite horrendous.”
“Something deeply injurious to the Muslim minority can happen, once their citizenship rights are taken away,” Varshney added.
Aman Wadud, a human rights lawyer from Assam, said: “The Indian Constitution in its Preamble emphasises the ideals of justice, liberty, equality, fraternity and secularism.”
“The steps proposed by the Indian government are a direct attack on these constitutional ideals, and defeat the demand that every Indian citizen has the right to a life of dignity. The Indian Constitution, which is an unparalleled document in the history of modern nations, guarantees the right to live with dignity. The NRC exercise if implemented will deny this very right to live a dignified life.”
Before the CAA was passed by Parliament, the USCIRF urged the Trump administration to sanction home minister Amit Shah on its passage. It wanted to send a team to India in 2016 to “discuss and assess religious freedom conditions in that nation”, but India denied visas to the team.
(This story has been re-edited to more accurately present the facts of the hearing)