Indian banks to check customers’ religion in future

NEW DELIHI: Indian banks may ask depositors and customers to list their religion, The Times of India reported.

The information may be required after the Reserve Bank of India made changes to a banking law that allows selected non-residents to open bank accounts and own property, the report said.

Amendments to the Foreign Exchange Management Regulations will let immigrant Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians – all minorities from neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – own property and open accounts in India.

Muslims from those countries were excluded, as were atheists and people from other neighbouring countries or regions such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Tibet, the paper said.

Citizenship law

The changes are similar to a new law introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government that bars Muslims from neighbouring countries from seeking Indian citizenship.

That law, seen as a precursor to a nationwide citizenship register to weed out illegal migrants, has led to large-scale violent protests that have crossed religious lines, and drawn a crackdown by authorities.

The protests come amid India’s slowest economic growth in more than six years, rising unemployment and growing unease fuelled by a series of surprise government decisions.

Modi and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah scrapped seven decades of autonomy for the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir, and announced plans for a nationwide registry that would require people to prove their citizenship.

The law has raised fears about potential damage to the ethos of secularism and religious equality enshrined in India’s Constitution.

Before the amendments to the banking law, a foreigner could open accounts regardless of religion or country of origin.

Foreigners who resided in India for more than six months – and who weren’t citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, China, Iran, Nepal, or Bhutan – previously were able to buy residential property, the Times report said.

The changes were made last year but went unnoticed, the report said. The RBI didn’t respond to questions from the Times, the paper said.