Asia-Pacific

US body voices concern over India registry of Muslims

A government official in Kharupetia, in the Indian state of Assam, collected documents from people hoping to be included on an official list of Indian citizens. Source: Saumya Khandelwal for The New York Times

The chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said he is concerned with the potential abuse of the National Register of Citizens in Assam.

The head of a US government advisory board has voiced concern over India's drive to register citizens in the northeastern state of Assam, amid fears it could disenfranchise millions, most of them Muslims.

Tony Perkins - chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which issues recommendations to the government but does not make policy - said that religious pluralism was "a bedrock of Indian society."

"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," he said in a statement.

India has given Assam residents until the end of the month to prove they, their parents or grandparents were in the state before 1971 when millions fled predominantly Muslim Bangladesh's war of independence.

Home Minister Amit Shah, the right-hand man of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has called for the ejection of "termites" from India and, before their Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party's election triumph this year, vowed to take the Assam-style campaign nationwide and "send back the infiltrators."

Amit Shah
Amit Shah.
RSTV

In another move, India's lower house of parliament passed legislation in January to grant citizenship to people who came from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan at least six years ago - but not if they are Muslim.

Mr Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group close to President Donald Trump's Republican Party that is known for its opposition to acceptance of homosexuality.

Joining his statement of concern was Anurima Bhargava, a member of the commission appointed by Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

She said the commission was "troubled" by any actions that target minorities, saying that the registration "must not become a means to target and render stateless the Muslim community in northeastern India."

The United States rarely criticizes India, an emerging ally, and has been guarded in statements on Mr Modi's recent stripping of autonomy for Kashmir, which had been the country's only Muslim-majority state.

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