US panel raises serious questions over religious freedom in India

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India has been designated as a country of “Particular Concern” (CPC) in its annual report of 2020 by the USCIRF an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission.

The report says the country was “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations”.

USCIRF makes policy recommendations based on its review of global religious freedom to the US President, the Secretary of State and the US Congress. 

In scathing remarks, it added that the “national government allowed violence against minorities” and also “engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence”.

The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission

The list includes 14 nations that have been flagged as “countries of particular concern”. These include nine countries that the State Department designated as CPCs last December — Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan — as well as five others — India, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam.

The annual report makes a mention of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC). It adds that the “BJP leaders have continued to advocate for nation-wide NRC” and coupled with the CAA “Muslims alone would bear the indignities and consequences of potential statelessness”.

The USCIRF has recommended that the US government impose targeted sanctions on “Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States”.

While discussing India, USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins said, “We are seeing impunity for violence by non-state actors committed against religious minorities.”

Expressing deep disappointment, Vice-Chair Nadine Maenza said “perhaps the steepest and most alarming deterioration in religious freedom conditions was in India, the largest democracy in the world”.

Rejecting the observations made in the report, the government’s official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, “Its (the USCIRF’s) biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels. It has not been able to carry its own Commissioners in its endeavour. We regard it as an organisation of particular concern and will treat it accordingly.”

This is the first time in more than 15 years that India has been designated a “country of particular concern”. In fact, the 2006 Annual Report had appreciated the “positive developments” in affecting freedom of religion. The 2013 report had said “there has been no large-scale communal violence against religious minorities in India since 2008”, but had pointed out that in some cases, redressal had been slow and ineffective.

The annual reports for the last two years have been warning India of a “continued downward trend” with regards to religious tolerance and religious freedom violations.

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