'Citizenship Bill excluding Muslim immigrants taking India further into an abyss of bigotry'

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India's pluralist and tolerant ethos, has called the bill passed by the lower house of India's Parliament, granting citizenship to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from neighboring countries unconstitutional and reflective of the Modi administration's deep animus towards Muslims and other minorities. In addition the IAMC has called on the US Senate to conduct a hearing on the sustained attacks against religious freedom of minorities in India.

The issue of illegal immigration into India has long been a political flashpoint in India, especially in the northern states bordering Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, with the BJP and others in the Hindutva fraternity using it to label even Indian Muslim citizens as illegal infiltrators. In July 2018, the government published a draft of the National Citizenship Registry that excluded four million citizens, mostly Muslims, accusing them of being illegal immigrants. The outrage was exacerbated by the fact that among those excluded from the registry was the family of the fifth President of India, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. This week India's ruling party went a step further in its brazen attempts to detach India from its secular moorings and turn it into a Hindu state. The lower house passed a bill granting citizenship to non-Muslim illegal immigrants from neighboring countries. The bill seeks to permit illegal immigrants belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi or Christian communities from neighboring countries to settle in India and avoid deportation. If the citizenship bill and the national citizenship registry are seen in conjunction, it becomes clear that the government is keen on keeping out only Muslim migrants to the country while actively seeking to strip millions of Indian Muslims of their citizenship.

Article 14 of India's Constitution declares, "The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India." The shocking irony of Indian lawmakers attempting to legislate a violation of the Constitution has rightly generated outrage among minorities and people of conscience across India. The bill is also a violation of the Assam accord of 1985. The Accord requires that the government deport all illegal immigrants who came to the country after 1971 when Bangladesh gained independence.

There is a strong possibility that this bill, given it is such an open exercise in religious discrimination, will not stand judicial scrutiny. However, the government's actions are part of a larger pattern of shrinking religious freedom for India's minorities. Recently the Chief Minister of a major state called on Muslims to refrain from using public spaces to offer prayers. This stunning comment was followed by a police directive to major companies holding them responsible if their employees were to use a public park for Friday prayers.

"The fact that India's right-wing Hindu nationalist administration has come this far in advancing its agenda of turning Indian Muslims into second-class citizens while legislating preferential treatment of Hindus should generate international concern over the future of India as a secular, democratic polity," said Mr. Ahsan Khan, President of IAMC. "While the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had consistently placed India in the Tier 2 list of countries where religious freedom is at risk even before the Modi administration came to power, it is time to acknowledge that the RSS and its ideological affiliates have taken India further down into the abyss of hate and religious bigotry, " added Mr. Khan.

IAMC has urged members of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of India's Parliament to reject the bill outright and prevent further division and tension in the country. IAMC has also called on protesters to maintain peace while expressing their outrage against the government's unconstitutional actions.

Indian-American Muslim Council is the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the United States with chapters across the nation.

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