Hyderabad: In a congressional briefing, leading Indian American human rights defenders have condemned the Indian government drive to forcibly remove hundreds of thousands of Muslims from their homes in the state of Assam, calling the move a brazen attempt at turning millions of Indian Muslims into non-citizens.
The briefing, on October 6, was co-sponsored by a group of 17 human rights and interfaith organizations, including the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Amnesty International USA and Hindus for Human Rights.
In the wake of this targeted anti-Muslim discrimination, the speakers of the briefing demanded that the United States designate India as a Country of Particular Concern or CPC. According to the US Department of State’s Office of International Religious Freedom, a CPC is a nation that is “engaged in or [tolerates] particularly severe violations of religious freedom, including flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.”
India has been recommended by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to be placed on the CPC list for two years in a row. Aman Wadud, a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Texas Law, and a defence lawyer for multiple National Register of Citizens (NRC) victims spoke on the fear of mass statelessness that is growing among Muslims in the region.
“This re-verification is not because of any demand for excluding illegal migrants that have crept in. It is a political demand,” said Wadud, who in 2020 testified before the USCIRF on India’s alarming rates of anti-Muslim discrimination. He further added that if this process of asking India’s own citizens to prove their citizenship begins again, all the people will live in fear and that everyone’s dignity will be stripped.
Siddhartha Deb, journalist and author, pointed out the discriminatory nature of the eviction drives. “With or without the NRC, or with endless NRCs going on, Bengali Muslims in Assam are targeted,” he said.
“The US government needs to make it very clear to Modi that this kind of targeting of Muslims in Assam, around the country, is not acceptable. I think there is a very good reason to declare India a Country of Particular Concern,” he added.
“In recent years, the BJP’s aggressive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA-NRC ) politics has exacerbated the divisions stemming out of the common belief that ‘indigenous’ Assamese are losing their land to ‘illegal Bangladeshi migrants’ and has overlaid a unique Hindutva agenda on top of them,” said Nadim Khan, co-founder of the United Against Hate campaign and secretary of the Association for Protection of Civil Rights in India.
He further added that the BJP has been exploiting the ethnic and religious fault lines in Assam for electoral gains, and running a hate campaign against Muslims, who account for one-third of the state’s population.
In a press release, IAMC stated that even Hindus who find themselves left off the registry face difficulties. Under the anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act, Bengali-speaking Hindus do have the option to reapply for citizenship. However, even if they have been living in Assam for generations, the rules of the CAA force them to claim that they are Bengali refugees and not Indians by birth, the press note read.
Deb who has written on the Assam evictions for the New York Times emphasized that the discrimination does not stem from a vacuum. “In India, when we say Muslims are under attack, we also need to be saying that democracy is under attack, freedom is under attack. It all goes together.”
The Indian American Muslim Council said that it is committed to working with human rights advocates in the US and in India to safeguard India’s pluralism and religious freedom for people of all faiths.