The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), has issued a statement against the National Register of Citizens in Assam in India. In what can be seen as an act of undue interference by the Commission in India’s internal affairs, it has said that the NRC creates a “negative and potentially dangerous climate for the Muslim community” in the north-eastern region of India. The Commission went on to allege that the updated NRC could be used to disenfranchise Muslims in the region and could be a part of the government’s efforts to introduce a “religious test” specifically aimed at clearing out Muslims. As such this allegation lacks any basis and seems to be based on airy assumptions. It is difficult to comprehend how the Commission thinks of NRC as an instrument to disenfranchise a particular community.
USCIRF chair Tony Perkins and Commissioner Anurima Bhargava issued a statement in Washington DC, which read, “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.” He added, “However, we remain concerned with the potential abuse of the National Register of Citizens in Assam and the resulting introduction of a religious requirement for citizenship, which are contrary to the ideals of religious freedom in India.” Bhargava also said, “The National Register of Citizens verification process must not become a means to target and render stateless the Muslim community in northeastern India. 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.”
USCIRF’s statement is uncalled for. It must not be forgotten that carrying out an exercise like the NRC is essentially a part of India’s “internal affairs”.
External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, has also made it clear that Assam’s NRC is India’s internal matter. In such a case, this statement coming from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom is unwarranted. It is also ironic in the sense that at a time when the US is battling growing intolerance, the US based Commission has chosen to express concern over an innocuous move. Its apprehensions over the NRC are based on airy assumptions, misinterpretations and lack of any knowledge of the ground realities.
Less than a month ago, the US witnessed two mass shootings within a gap of 13 hours. The first mass shooting which occured on August 3 in the border city of El Paso, had left 20 people dead. In another incident in Ohio, nine people were killed in a mass shooting incident within a gap of 24 hours. 183 people have lost their lives in mass shootings in the US since 2017. At a time, when the US is going through a period of acute intolerance, it is highly unreasonable on the part of a US based commission to lecture India about such issues.
It is also important to remember that the majority white population in the US is of Irish and European origin and the original inhabitants of the land are in fact the native Americans, also known as ‘Indians’. History has been a witness as to how the native Americans have been subjected to brutal killings and torture and now they have been reduced to a miniscule minority, struggling to maintain their land, culture and way of life.
Not just the native Americans, in fact the blacks in the US have been subjected to slavery and till today there is widespread racial discrimination against the community in the country.
The fact that the US based commission has an objection with the NRC is also hypocritical given the fact as per a Los Angeles Times report, there are apprehensions within the US about the Trump administration violating the law in forcing asylum seekers back to Mexico. Given the manner in which the US has handled asylum seekers and has pushed back more than 37,000 asylum seekers back across the US Southern Border in the last seven months, the US based commission should be last one to comment on India’s internal matter.
The US based institutions need to look into such internal matters of grave concern instead of making unnecessarily hostile remarks against India’s NRC. India’s tolerant values are deeply rooted int its philosophy and also guaranteed constitutionally. As such India does not need to learn these values from foreign powers.