Washington: A day after the Lok Sabha cleared the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee said any religious test for citizenship "may undermine the basic tenets of democratic values" of a nation.
"Religious pluralism is central to the foundations of both India and the United States and is one of our core shared values. Any religious test for citizenship undermines this most basic democratic tenet," the panel said on Tuesday.
On Monday, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill got the Lok Sabha nod with a majority of 311 votes against 80 votes. It seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. The debate over the controversial bill lasted for seven hours.
Through this Bill, Indian citizenship will be provided to people from Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities, who have come from the three countries to India till December 31, 2014, so that they are not treated as illegal immigrants.
Home Minister Amit Shah, while defending the bill, said it was not in violation of constitutional provisions and would give relief to people living a painful life after facing persecution in neighbouring countries.
Had India not been divided along religious lines, there would have been no need to bring in such a legislation, said Shah, targeting the opposition Congress. The Bill is not violative of Article 14 of the Constitution as it aims to give citizenship to persecuted people, he added.
The tabling of the emotive Bill came even as there were protests and incidents of violence in the northeastern states, with most of the student unions and regional political parties opposing it, saying it will nullify the provisions of the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971, as the cut-off date for deportation of all illegal immigrants irrespective of religion.
Rejecting suggestions that the Bill is anti-Muslim, Shah said the measure has the endorsement of 130 crore citizens of the country as it was part of the BJP manifesto in 2014 as well as 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
"We will have to differentiate between intruders and refugees. The Citizenship Amendment Bill does not discriminate against anyone and does not snatch anyone’s rights," Shah said, initiating the debate on the Bill.
Meanwhile, in another statement, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom reiterated similar concerns over the legislation saying: "The Bill enshrines a pathway to citizenship for immigrants that specifically excludes Muslims, setting a legal criterion for citizenship based on religion."
The bill will now be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.