United States President Donald Trump will discuss the matter of religious freedom in India with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to India next week, the White House said on Friday, according to media reports. Trump will be in India with a 12-member delegation on February 24 and 25, and visit Ahmedabad and New Delhi.
“President Trump will talk about our shared tradition of democracy and religious freedom both in his public remarks and then certainly in private,” PTI quoted an unidentified senior official as saying at a conference call. “He will raise these issues, particularly the religious freedom issue, which is extremely important to this administration.”
The official was responding to a question about the president’s plans to speak to Modi about the ongoing all-India protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens, ANI reported. “We do have this shared commitment to upholding our universal values, the rule of law,” the official added. “We have great respect for India’s democratic traditions and institutions, and we will continue to encourage India to uphold those traditions.”
The official pointed out that religious freedom, respect for religious minorities and “equal treatment of all religious” are protected by the Indian Constitution. “So this is something that is important to the president and I’m sure it will come up.”
The Citizenship Amendment Act, approved by Parliament on December 11, offers a fast track to citizenship for non-Muslim undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years and entered the country by December 31, 2014. The government’s critics fear that the law, along with the citizens’ register – which will be used to identify undocumented immigrants – will be used to harass and disenfranchise Muslims.
Last year, a report by the United States Congress’ think tank had said the citizenship law and the NRC might affect the “status of India’s large Muslim minority of roughly 200 million”. “Its [Citizenship Amendment Act] key provisions – allowing immigrants of six religions from three countries a path to citizenship while excluding Muslims – may violate certain Articles of the Indian Constitution,” said the two-page report by the Congressional Research Service, referring to Articles 14 and 15.
“Proponents say that Muslims do not face persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Afghanistan, and that the CAA is constitutional because it addresses migrants rather than Indian citizens,” it added. “Yet it is not clear why migrants from other neighbouring countries with state [or favoured] religions, such as Sri Lanka [where Buddhism is the official religion and Tamil Hindus face persecution] and Burma [where Buddhism enjoys primacy and Rohingya Muslims are persecuted], are excluded from a path to citizenship. In addition, oppressed Muslim minority communities such as Pakistan’s Ahmadis and Shias enjoy no protection under the CAA.”
It noted that the United Nations, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom, and other independent human rights groups had expressed concerns about the citizenship register.