US stresses equal protection under India’s new citizenship law

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Washington: Amid protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act in India, a top American diplomat has underscored the importance of the principle of equal protection under the law.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Alice Wells, who has just returned from a trip to the region besides attending the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, said on Friday that her visit offered an opportunity to hear more regarding developments with the new citizenship law.

According to the CAA, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 following religious persecution there will get Indian citizenship.

“The visit also offered an opportunity to hear more regarding developments with India’s Citizenship Amendment Act, which is undergoing I would say a vigorous democratic scrutiny, whether it’s in the streets, by the political opposition, media, and the courts,” she said.

“We continue to underscore the importance of the principle of equal protection under the law,” Wells added.

On Jammu and Kashmir, Wells said she was “pleased to see some incremental steps, including the partial return of internet service” in Kashmir.

The restrictions were imposed on August 5 last when India abrogated the Article 370 that gave special powers to Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories.

Wells described the visit by US ambassador Kenneth Juster, and other foreign diplomats to Jammu and Kashmir as “a useful step”.

“We also continue to urge the government to permit regular access by our diplomats, and to move swiftly to release those political leaders detained without charge,” she said.

In the first such trip by foreign diplomats post August 5, envoys of 15 countries, including the US, early this month visited Jammu and Kashmir where they interacted with select political representatives, civil society members as well as top military brass with the Indian government rejecting criticism that it was a “guided tour”.

While in New Delhi, Wells had meetings with her Indian counterparts, which she said were focused on how to build on the diplomatic and defence gains achieved during the 2+2 ministerial dialogue in December.

With continued progress on defense cooperation, peacekeeping operations, space, counterterrorism, trade, people-to-people initiatives, and more, she said the quality and frequency of India-US naval cooperation, especially the information sharing, have reached unprecedented levels.

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