The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, or USCIRF, has described the National Register of Citizens exercise in Assam as a “tool to target religious minorities, and, in particular, render Indian Muslims stateless”.

The commission on Friday said the NRC was one more example of the “downward trend in religious freedom conditions within India”. The remarks came a day after it appeared before the US Congress and criticised the Indian government’s actions in Jammu and Kashmir.

The panel, which is an independent, bipartisan entity of the US federal government, observed that the final NRC list released on August 31 excluded 19 lakh people, or around 6% of Assam’s population.

The commission pointed out the concern of many domestic and international organisations that the NRC is a “targeted mechanism to disenfranchise Assam’s Bengali Muslim community”, as well as establish “a religious requirement for citizenship”.

The USCIRF said the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government had pushed for the implementation of the citizens’ database in other states, notably Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. It pointed out that Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s remarks about implementing a nationwide register of citizens. The commission alleged that “following the August 2019 release of the NRC, the BJP government has taken steps that reflect an anti-Muslim bias”.

The commission said that for many “impoverished families” presenting the required documents was a challenge because of inadequate family record-keeping, illiteracy, or lack of money to travel to government offices and file legal claims. “People were also kept off the list because of minor inconsistencies in paperwork, such as differences in the spelling of a name,” it added.

Monitored by Supreme Court

In a statement in September, the Ministry of External Affairs had said that the Supreme Court had mandated and monitored the NRC process. “The process is being monitored by the Supreme Court directly and the government is acting in accordance with the directives issued by the court,” the ministry said, according to PTI. “The apex court of the land has itself set the deadlines for all steps that have been taken so far.”

The ministry said the NRC was a process that “leaves no room for bias and injustice”. It pointed out that the NRC form did not ask for an individual’s religion. People excluded from the NRC have 120 days from the date of the list’s publication to appeal in the Foreigners Tribunal. If they are not satisfied with the verdict, they have the option of moving the High Court and the Supreme Court.