The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that the NRC is a “targeted mechanism to disenfranchise Assam’s Bengali Muslim community, implicitly establishing a religious requirement for citizenship and potentially rendering large numbers of Muslims stateless.”
WASHINGTON — The National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam is a tool to “target religious minorities and to render Muslims stateless,” said a federal US Commission on religious freedom and criticised the intention behind the process as 19 lakh residents have been excluded from the list.
Observing the figures, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Friday said that a number of domestic and international organisations have expressed concern that the NRC is a “targeted mechanism to disenfranchise Assam’s Bengali Muslim community, implicitly establishing a religious requirement for citizenship and potentially rendering large numbers of Muslims stateless.”
A June 2018 joint letter by four United Nations (UN) special rapporteurs — including the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief—explained that the citizenship registry “has generated increased anxiety and concerns among the Bengali Muslim minority in Assam, who have long been discriminated against due to their perceived status as foreigners, despite possessing the necessary documents to prove their citizenship.”
The USCIRF in “Issue Brief: India” released on November 15, said the NRC “as a tool to target religious minorities and, in particular, to render Indian Muslims stateless has become one more example of the downward trend in religious freedom conditions within India.”
The updated final NRC was released on August 31, with over 1.9 million applicants failing to make it to the list.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a register containing names of all genuine Indian citizens.
The process to update the register in Assam began following a Supreme Court order in 2013, with the state’s nearly 33 million people having to prove that they were Indian nationals prior to March 24, 1971.
The USCIRF further alleged that following the August 2019 release of the NRC, the BJP government has taken steps that “reflect an anti-Muslim bias.”
“The BJP has indicated its intent to create a religious test for Indian citizenship that would favour Hindus and selected religious minorities but exclude Muslims,” the USCIRF said.
However, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs in response to questions on the NRC had said in September, “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 apex court of the land has itself set the deadlines for all steps that have been taken so far.”
Concerns about the targeting of Muslims through the citizenship process were separately exacerbated by the introduction and passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha (lower house) of Parliament, which would provide citizenship to migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan as long as they were not Muslim, the USCIRF observes.