Influential senator comes out strongly against India’s new citizenship laws

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez at Swaminarayan Akshardham temple in New Delhi during his visit to India in October 2019.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Influential U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D.-N.J.) — a decades-long friend of the Indian American community and an ardent supporter of U.S.-India relations — has fired off a missive to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing concern over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the envisaged National Register of Citizens (NRC), and called on the Trump administration to press for the “swift reversal of the policies and practices.”

Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the senior U.S. Senator in New Jersey—which is among the top five states with the largest concentrations of Indian Americans— wrote Pompeo on Jan. 14 that the CAA “to grant citizenship based on religion violates India’s international legal obligations and its constitution, which guarantees the rights to equality and nondiscrimination.”

Meanwhile, he argued that the potential to establish the nationwide NRC “has already disproportionately affected Muslims in India,” and warned, “These efforts threaten India’s long history of secularism and democratic values.”

Menendez informed Pompeo that “during travel to India last October, I met with civil society activists who expressed deep concern about the trajectory of these policies and its negative impact on the future of democracy in India,” and added, “The government’s efforts in Assam has left effectively 1.9 million persons, primarily Bengali-speaking Muslims, stateless.”

“The government appears to now be extending this effort across the country,” he said, and argued that “despite the government’s claims that the citizenship bill seeks to protect religious minorities, its failure to include Muslim groups facing persecution in neighboring countries, such as Pakistan’s Ahmadiyya and Burma’s Rohingya, signal an anti-Muslim intent.”

Menendez pointed out that “this message has been further reinforced by Home Minister Amit Shah who has vowed in public to expand the checks used in Assam in other states and use the citizenship law to purge India of ‘infiltrators’ and ‘termites’ appearing to refer to Muslims in India.”

“Moreover, I am concerned by reports of injuries and deaths of peaceful demonstrators protesting the citizenship act and national register,” he informed Pompeo, and stated, “The police have a responsibility to protect citizens.” 

Menendez noted that “videos uploaded to social media and reports have revealed the police have illegally detained, arrested on false charges, beat, and opened fire on peaceful protestors—violating India’s international human rights obligations.  In addition, I am alarmed by reports that the central government is building mass detention centers to house individuals who cannot prove their citizenship, essentially Indian Muslims.” 

The lawmaker also bemoaned that “the situation in Kashmir has also not normalized since the abrogation of Article 370 of the constitution in August,” and added,  “The five-month Internet shutdown in Kashmir is the longest ever in a democracy, and has left people’s lives, jobs, and the economy in a more dire situation.”  

Menendez called on “the Administration to engage the Indian government at the highest levels on these concerns, press for a swift reversal of these policies and practices, and ensure protection of the human rights of all persons in India regardless of their religion,” and stressed, “The United States must remain steadfast in defending democratic values, freedoms, and human rights.”

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