WASHINGTON, D.C.-- The U.S. has privately expressed its deep concern over India’s commitment to religious freedom in the country, citing the Indian government enactment of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a senior State Dept. official who recently visited India, has said.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, on the sidelines of the 27-nation International Religious Freedom Alliance launched by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Feb. 5, told reporters that while in India, he had met with senior Indian government officials, including External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and raised these concerns with them.
The official’s remarks comes amidst continuing protests in India — some that have turned violent—and also across the U.S. against the CAA saying that it targets Indian Muslims and could result in their disenfranchisement, although the Indian government has vehemently denied this contention and argued that the new law has been scrupulously enacted to protect the oppressed minorities of three Muslim-majority neighboring countries who have fled religious persecution by granting them citizenship and will not deny any Indian minority citizens their citizenship rights.
Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, defending the CAA asserted that the CAA,“is not about taking away citizenship, it is about giving citizenship.”
He argued, "We must all know that any person of any religion from any country of the world who believes in India and its Constitution can apply for Indian citizenship through due process. There's no problem in that.”
The legislation offers Indian citizenship for non-Muslim illegal immigrants –Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christians—who have entered the country from the neighboring Muslim-majority countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan and are fearful of returning to the country of their origin because they could face religious persecution.
Since the passage of this bill by the parliament and its subsequent enactment, has led to nationwide protests, with demonstrators calling for the law’s repeal, calling it not only discriminatory against Muslims, but also declaring it unconstitutional and divisive.
According to the official, the administration had also "expressed desire first to try to help and work through some of these issues.”
"To me, the initial step we try to do in most places is say what can we do to be of help you work through an issue to where there's not religious persecution. That's the first step, is just saying can we work with you on this," he said.
But when some reporters said that the Trump administration was publicly strongly critical of countries like China for its persecution of its Muslim ethnic minority Uighurs, but was giving India “a free pass,” the official shot back saying “we are not giving anyone a free pass,” and walked away to join the conferees discussing various ways to adopt a collective approach in protecting and preserving religious freedom across the world.
Pompeo in his opening remarks during the formal launch, said the Alliance was a consortium of "like-minded partners who treasure, and fight for, international religious freedom for every human being.”
"Defending the right of all people to live their lives according to their conscience is one of this administration's top priorities," he said, and declared, "Indeed, we must affirm, and fight for, that truth now more than ever. “
“More than eight in 10 people in the world today live where they cannot practice their faith freely," Pompeo said, and added, "We condemn terrorists and violent extremists who target religious minorities, whether they are Yezidis in Iraq, Hindus in Pakistan, Christians in northeast Nigeria, or Muslims in Burma.”
America’s top diplomat said, "We condemn blasphemy and apostasy laws that criminalize matters of the soul. We condemn the Chinese Communist Party's hostility to all faiths. We know several of you courageously pushed back against Chinese pressure by agreeing to be part of this Alliance, and we thank you for that.”
"Finally, our Alliance is off on the right foot as countries do their parts to advance this mission," Pompeo said.
Among countries that are part of the alliance, besides the U.S., include Australia, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Israel, Ukraine, the Netherlands and Greece, but none of the South Asian countries are part of the Alliance.