Experts warn US panel India’s Muslims face persecution under new law, Latest World News - The New Paper

Experts warn US panel India’s Muslims face persecution under new law

This article is more than 12 months old

WASHINGTON: Experts warned a US government panel on Wednesday that India's Muslims face risks of expulsion or other persecution under a citizenship law that has triggered major protests.

The hearing held in Congress was called by the US Commission on International Freedom, which has been denounced by the Indian government as biased.

Mr Ashutosh Varshney, a prominent scholar of sectarian violence in India, told the panel that the law championed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalists amounted to a move to narrow the democracy's historically inclusive and secular definition of citizenship.

"The threat is serious, and the implications quite horrendous," said Mr Varshney, a professor at Brown University.

"Something deeply injurious to the Muslim minority can happen once their citizenship rights are taken away," he said.

Mr Varshney warned that the law could lead to expulsion or detention but, even if it did not, it would contribute to marginalisation.

"It creates an enabling atmosphere for violence once you say that a particular community is not fully Indian or its Indianness in grave doubt," he said.

The Indian Parliament in December passed a law that fast-tracks citizenship for persecuted non-Muslim minorities from neighbouring countries.

Responding to criticism at the time from the US commission, which advises but does not set policy, India's foreign ministry said the law does not strip anyone's citizenship and "should be welcomed, not criticised, by those who are genuinely committed to religious freedom".

Fears are particularly acute in the north-eastern state of Assam, where a citizens' register finalised last year left 1.9 million people, many of them Muslims, facing possible statelessness.

More than 40 people were killed last week in New Delhi in sectarian violence sparked by the citizenship law. - AFP