The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has named India under "Countries of Particular Concern", tagging it as one of the worst violators of religious freedoms in 2020.
This report has been prepared by an independent, bipartisan commission, and has named India on this list second time in a row.
The suggestion last time was not accepted by US State Department. This year however, only one out of ten USCIRF commissioners dissented from this opinion.
What Did the Report Say?
The report stated that India's religious freedom conditions has continued on a negative trajectory since 2020.
“The government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom,” it said.
The report cited the "passage of the religiously discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA)", noting that it led to "nationwide protests against the CAA and spurred state and non-state violence, largely targeting Muslims".
The report spoke about the 2021 Delhi riots in February that led to loss of 50 lives, and 200 others injured, calling it "the worst Hindu-Muslim mob violence in more than three decades".
The report stated that a mob that was sympathetic to Hindu nationalism operated to attack mosques, destroy homes and businesses in Muslim-majority neighbourhoods, and singled out Muslims.
"“The Delhi Minorities Commission investigated and found that the violence and allegations of police brutality and complicity were ‘seemingly planned and directed to teach a lesson to a certain community which dared to protest against a discriminatory law’. Citing COVID-19 concerns, in March police cleared the Shaheen Bagh protest in Delhi – a peaceful sit-in that had lasted more than 100 days and was led by Muslim and non-Muslim women protesting the CAA.”" - US Commission on International Religious Freedom report
The body further outlined how the National Register of Citizens (NRC) excluded 1.9 million residents, in spite of some families having resided in India for generations.
The report added, "The consequences of exclusion – as exemplified by a large detention camp being built in Assam – are potentially devastating and underscore concerns about the impact such laws may have if extended to other states or nationwide.”
The body also raised concerns around the implementation and consequences of 'The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, 2020' and called it an "effort to prohibit interfaith marriage or relationships using the false narrative of 'forced conversion’".
"These efforts targeting and delegitimising interfaith relationships have led to attacks and arrests of non-Hindus and to innuendo, suspicion, and violence toward any interfaith interaction,” said the report.
Raising the issue of the amendment to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act has been amendment, the report says that this led to "further stifling civil society and forcing religious organizations and human rights organizations, including those advocating for religious freedom, to shut down". The report mentions Amnesty International India as one such organisation affected by this amendment to the law.
The report also accused government officials of targeting religious minorities with “hateful rhetoric”.
"Disinformation and intolerant content have emboldened intimidation, harassment, and mob violence in recent years, including numerous instances of violence mainly against Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Adivasis, and other religious communities,” said the report.
USCIRF raised concerns around government action that acquitted those who were accused of demolishing the Babri Masjid mosque, and stated how the "inaction to address religious violence contributed to a culture of impunity for those promulgating hate and violence toward religious minorities".
"“At the same time, the government cracked down on those expressing dissent, including detaining and even accusing individuals of sedition for their actual or perceived criticism of the CAA and other governmental (in)actions.”" - USCIRF report
The report highlighted how Dalits who have a history of being discriminated and oppressed faced heightened harassment during the COVID pandemic.
It noted that, "Experts suggest that in 2020, pervasive disinformation about the CAA protests and the COVID-19 pandemic specifically targeted religious minorities and marginalised communities, disproportionately affecting women."
The report also raised concerns of how the “fervor around cow slaughter continues to take root in policy” with fines and imprisonment for the purchase and sale of cattle.
The report also raised the issue of religious freedom in Jammu and Kashmir, where there are "restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly negatively impacted religious freedom, including the observance of religious holy days and the ability to attend prayers."
Calling out the Kashmir internet ban, the report said, "The shutdown of the internet for nearly 18 months – the longest-ever shutdown in any democracy – and other restrictions on communications caused significant disruption and limited religious freedom".
Recommendations to the US Government
The report gave five suggestions for the Biden administration to adopt:
• "Designate India as a 'country of particular concern, or CPC, for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).”
• "Impose targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ or entities’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States.”
• "Advance human rights of all religious communities in India and promote religious freedom and dignity and interfaith dialogue through bilateral and multilateral forums and agreements, such as the ministerial of the Quadrilateral."
• "Condemn ongoing religious freedom violations and support religious organisations and human rights groups being targeted for their advocacy of religious freedom.”
• "US Congress should continue to raise religious freedom concerns in the US-India bilateral relationship and highlight concerns through hearings, briefings, letters, and congressional delegations.”
What the Report's Commissioner Said
Johnnie Moore, the Commissioner for the report, stated, "Of all the countries in the world, India should not be a 'country of particular concern’, or CPC. It is the world’s largest democracy and it is governed by a pristine constitution. It is diversity personified and its religious life has been its greatest historic blessing. Yet, India does seem to be at a crossroads.”
"“Its democracy – still young and freewheeling – is creating through the ballot box difficult challenges for itself. The answer, of course, is for India’s institutions to draw upon their rich history to protect their values. India must always resist allowing political and inter-communal conflict to be exacerbated by religious tensions.”" - Commissioner Johnnie Moore
She reiterated that India's government and people have a lot to gain from preserving the social harmony and rights of everyone.
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