The United States believes India’s democracy will enable a "robust debate" on citizenship and religious freedom, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday, referring to a controversial law that grants Indian citizenship on the basis of religion.
The new Citizenship Amendment Act makes it easier for non-Muslims from the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to gain Indian citizenship. Critics say it weakens India’s secular foundations since it does not apply to Muslims, and fear it is part of a Hindu nationalist plan to marginalise the country’s own Muslims.
"We care deeply and always will about protecting minorities and religious rights everywhere. We honour Indian democracy as they have a robust debate on the issue that you raised," Pompeo told reporters at a news conference in Washington at the conclusion of the 2+2 ministerial talks, according to news agency PTI.
Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday hosted their Indian counterparts External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh for the talks.
Pompeo was asked if it was "appropriate for democracy to use faith as a determining criteria for citizenship."
Jaishankar answered the question to say: "The question that you asked relating to India, if you had followed the debate on that particular legislation carefully, you would see that it is a measure which is designed to address the needs of persecuted religious minorities from certain countries."
"If you look at what those countries are and therefore what their minorities are, perhaps you understand why certain religions were identified in terms of characterising those who had come across," Jaishankar said.
Pompeo said the United States has been consistent in the way that it has responded to these issues, not only in India but all across the world.