The United States on Thursday urged India to protect the rights of minorities in the country even as it continued to monitor the violent protests in Assam and other northeastern states against amendments made to the Citizenship Act, PTI reported.
“We are closely following developments regarding the Citizenship Amendment Bill,” a State Department spokesperson said. “Respect for religious freedom and equal treatment under the law are fundamental principles of our two democracies.”
“The US urges India to protect the rights of its religious minorities in keeping with India’s Constitution and democratic values,” the spokesperson added.
The amendment bill was passed in Parliament this week following lengthy debates and amid protests in the North East. The contentious law grants citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, provided they have resided in India for six years. The cut-off date is December 31, 2014. It explicitly excludes Muslims from three neighbouring countries from applying for Indian citizenship.
Two people were killed in Assam and 21 were injured as demands to withdraw the changes to the 1955 law were raised on Thursday. The widespread fear in the North East is that populations defined as indigenous to the region will be culturally and physically overrun by migrants as a result of these changes.
The state administration had also imposed an indefinite curfew in Guwahati and Dibrugarh districts, and the towns of Tezpur and Dhekiajuli in Sonitpur district. The government extended by 48 hours the suspension of mobile internet and data services in the affected districts.
Late on Thursday night, the Union Law Ministry issued an official notification stating that President Ram Nath Kovind has given his assent to the bill.
On Wednesday, Muslim-American Congressman Andre Carson had said the amendments to the Citizenship Act were are an attempt to reduce Muslims to second-class citizens. At present, he is one of the three Muslim members serving in the US Congress.
Earlier this week, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States House of Representatives had said any religious test for citizenship undermines the basic democratic tenet of religious pluralism. It pointed out that “religious pluralism” was central to the “foundations of both India and the United States and is one of our core shared values”. The statement had came hours after the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said it was “deeply troubled” by the proposed amendments, and sought sanctions against Union Home Minister Amit Shah.