(Aug 27) – Washington-based United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has expressed concern over potential abuse of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam and the resulting introduction of a religious requirement for citizenship, which is contrary to the ideals of religious freedom in India.
The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the US Congress to monitor, analyse and report on threats to religious freedom abroad.
The USCIRF expressed its concern that the updated NRC in Assam is “an intentional effort to discriminate and has the effect of discriminating against Muslims, and that the discretion given to local authorities in the verification process and in identifying perceived foreigners to be excluded from the draft list will be abused.”
“Freedom of religion or belief for India’s diverse faith communities and respect for religious pluralism have long been a bedrock of Indian society, values enshrined in the Indian Constitution,” the agency’s chairman Tony Perkins and commissioner Anurima Bhargava said in a statement.
“We remain troubled by any government policies or actions that have the effect, whether intentional or not, of undermining religious freedom for vulnerable religious minorities. The National Register of Citizens verification process must not become a means to target and render stateless the Muslim community in northeastern India,” they said, adding, “Proposed policies that suggest that Muslims – and Muslims alone – will face a higher burden for verification, along with worrisome rhetoric, create a negative and potentially dangerous climate for the Muslim community in northeastern India.”
Only individuals able to prove their citizenship prior to March 24, 1971, along with their descendants, will be included in the updated NRC list, with final determination of citizenship status provided by foreigners tribunals.
A June 2018 joint letter by four United Nations special rapporteurs, who among them had a special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, argued that the updated NRC could be used to disenfranchise Muslims in the region and is part of the government’s ongoing efforts to introduce a “religious test” specifically aimed at clearing out Muslims.