For the second time in a row, a United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) lists India as a country of particular concern with deteriorating religious freedom.
“The government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom,” the report said. It also highlighted how, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, religious minorities were targeted with lot of disinformation and hateful rhetoric, including from government officials.
The passage of the religiously discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) spurred state and non-state violence, largely targeting Muslims, it said. The panel listed India, with 13 other countries, as concerning because the governments engaged in or tolerated “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations.” The countries include Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, India, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam.
USCIRF, a US federal government commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. The panel recommended the US government to impose targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for violating religious freedom and impose visa restrictions.
“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,” it said.
Unveiling the report, Gayle Manchin, USCIRF chairperson said the past year remained challenging for most nations trying to balance public health concerns alongside the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief. The report noted that the acquittal of all individuals accused of demolishing the Babri Masjid mosque, and the government’s inactions on religious violence cases contributed to a culture of impunity among those promulgating hate and violence on religious minorities.
“(Even) the United Nations (UN) officials expressed concern over the government’s repression of criticism,” it said. Time and again, India had rejected the US body’s claim and said they are guided only by biases on the matter and the US had no locus standi to pronounce on the state of its citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.
In April 2020, the Ministry of External Affairs in a press release said, “We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF Annual Report. It is biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels.”
And added, “We regard it as an organisation of particular concern and will treat it accordingly.”