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USCIRF Fears India Creating 'Religious Test' for Citizenship, Protests Erupt


The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has announced it "is deeply troubled" by the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (CAB), and fears that the Indian government is creating a religious test for Indian citizenship that would strip citizenship from millions of Muslims.

The USCIRF warns if the CAB passes in both houses of India's parliament, the United States government should consider sanctions against the Home Minister and other principal leadership.

The USCIRF says the CAB enshrines a pathway to citizenship for immigrants that specifically excludes Muslims, setting a legal criterion for citizenship based on the Hindu religion. The commission also notes the bill is a dangerous turn in the wrong direction. It runs counter to India's rich history of secular pluralism and the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law regardless of faith. 

The bill was approved Monday in the lower house, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government (the BJP) enjoys majority support. The BJP included the passage of the CAB as part of its manifesto released ahead of its overwhelming electoral victory in May 2019, according to the USCIRF. 

On Wednesday, as the upper house of Parliament began debating legislation that would grant citizenship to persecuted Hindus and other religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, protesters burned tires and blocked highways and rail lines in India's remote northeast for a second day.

Police fired rubber bullets and used batons and tear gas to disperse protesters in Dibrugarh district in Assam state on Wednesday, the Press Trust of India news agency said.

State police official Mukesh Aggarwal said a curfew has been imposed in Gauhati, the state capital, and army soldiers were standing by in case the violence escalates.

Street protests continued in the capital, with young demonstrators making bonfires across the city. Police used tear gas and batons there as well to disperse hundreds of protesters who tried to march to the office of the state's top elected official.

The Press Trust of India said the federal government was airlifting nearly 5,000 paramilitary soldiers to the region.

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