India rejects US concern over citizenship law as ‘misplaced, unwarranted’

New Delhi’s strong response follows the US State Department saying it will ‘closely monitor’ the implementation of the religion-based law.

India Citizenship Law
A protester during a rally against the citizenship law in Kochi in the southern Indian state of Kerala [Sivaram V/Reuters]

India has rejected comments by a United States official raising concern over the implementation of a religion-based citizenship law as “misplaced, misinformed and unwarranted”.

On Monday, just weeks before the general election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government announced rules to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which makes getting Indian citizenship easier for non-Muslim refugees from three Muslim-majority South Asian nations: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The move sparked sporadic protests with critics, including Muslims groups and opposition parties, saying the law discriminates against Muslims and undermines India’s secular constitution.

On Tuesday, a US Department of State spokesperson expressed concern about the law and said Washington is “closely monitoring how this act will be implemented”.

“Respect for religious freedom and equal treatment under the law for all communities are fundamental democratic principles,” the spokesperson added.

In response, a spokesman for India’s Ministry of External Affairs on Friday said the CAA was an “internal matter” and the US State Department’s statement was “misplaced, misinformed and unwarranted”.

Spokesman Randhir Jaiswal said the law was “in keeping with India’s inclusive traditions and our longstanding commitment to human rights” and “grants a safe haven to persecuted minorities”.

“The CAA is about giving citizenship, not about taking away citizenship. It addresses the issue of statelessness, provides human dignity and supports human rights,” he told reporters in New Delhi.

“Lectures by those who have a limited understanding of India’s pluralistic traditions and the region’s post-partition history are best not attempted,” he said, referring to the colonial-era division of the Indian subcontinent to create the state of Pakistan in 1947.

The United Nations, which also expressed concerns about the CAA’s enforcement, had called the CAA “fundamentally discriminatory in nature” when it was passed in parliament in 2019.

Modi’s government did not implement the law that year as nationwide protests broke out over its passage. In eastern parts of New Delhi, Muslim neighbourhoods were attacked for days, and dozens of people were killed.

Activists and human rights groups said the law, combined with a proposed national register of citizens, could discriminate against India’s 200 million Muslims – the world’s third largest Muslim population. Some fear the government might remove the citizenship of Muslims without documents in some border states.

Rights groups also note the law leaves out Muslim minority groups like the Shias from India’s neighbouring Muslim-majority countries while also excluding countries where Muslims are a minority, like the Rohingya in Myanmar.

On Thursday, Amnesty International said the CAA was “a blow to Indian constitutional values and international standards” and demanded its repeal.

“The Citizenship Amendment Act is a bigoted law that legitimises discrimination on the basis of religion and should never have been enacted in the first place. Its operationalisation is a poor reflection on the Indian authorities as they fail to listen to a multitude of voices critical of the CAA,” said Aakar Patel, chairperson of the board at Amnesty International India.

Next week, India’s top court will hear nearly 200 petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the law implemented before the general election, local media reports said on Friday.

India is expected on Saturday to announce the date of the vote, scheduled to be held in April and May, in which Modi is seeking a third straight term.

Source: Al Jazeera