An official US report’s observations — released on June 21 — on religious freedom and violence against minorities in India have been rebuffed by the government and the ruling party BJP.
The ministry of external affairs rejected the report on Sunday and said it saw no locus standi for a foreign government to pronounce on the state of its citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.
The BJP responded to the report’s allegation that some senior leaders of the party “made inflammatory speeches against minority communities”, saying the report had a clear bias against the Narendra Modi government and the saffron party.
What is this report?
The US State Department’s annual 2018 International Religious Freedom Report covers government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and US policies to promote religious freedom around the world.
Mandated by the US Congress, the State Department in its voluminous report gives its assessment of the status of religious freedom in almost all the countries and territories of the world.
What exactly did it say about India?
In India, the report said mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against the minority communities, particularly Muslims, continued in 2018, amid rumours that victims had traded or killed cows for beef
According to some NGOs, the authorities often protected perpetrators from prosecution, it said.
The report said that as of November, there were 18 such attacks, and eight people killed during the year.
On June 22, two Uttar Pradesh police officers were charged with culpable homicide after a Muslim cattle trader died of injuries sustained while being questioned in police custody, the report said.
The State Department said that the central and state governments and members of political parties took steps that affected Muslim practices and institutions.
The government continued its challenge in the Supreme Court to the minority status of Muslim educational institutions, which affords them independence in hiring and curriculum decisions, it said.
“Proposals to rename Indian cities with Muslim provenance continued, most notably the renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj. Activists said these proposals were designed to erase Muslim contributions to Indian history and had led to increased communal tensions,” the State Department said.
There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytise, the annual report said.
Senior US government officials underscored the importance of respecting religious freedom and promoting tolerance throughout the year with the ruling and opposition parties, civil society and religious freedom activists, and religious leaders belonging to various faith communities, the report said.
The Indian govt’s response
Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said: “India is proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion.”
The Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens, including its minority communities, he said.
It is widely acknowledged that India is a vibrant democracy where the Constitution provides protection of religious freedom, and where democratic governance and rule of law further promote and protect fundamental rights, Kumar asserted.
“We see no locus standi for a foreign entity/government to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights,” he said.
In a statement, BJP media head and Rajya Sabha MP Anil Baluni said, “The basic presumption in this report that there is some grand design behind anti-minority violence is simply false. On the contrary, in most of such cases, these instances are carried out as a result of local disputes and by (people with) criminal mindsets.”
Whenever needed, PM Modi and other BJP leaders have strongly deplored violence against minorities and weaker sections of the society, he added.
Baluni said India has deep-rooted democratic institutions, including fiercely independent and pro-active judiciary, which is quite capable of handling such disputes and punish the guilty.
Unfortunately, this fact is completely ignored in this report, he said, adding that the BJP under the leadership of Modi believes in “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” (With all, development for all).
“Mega schemes launched and effectively implemented by the Modi government have benefited all the castes, religions and regions equally. BJP is indeed proud of its record in uplifting living standards of all poor, underprivileged sections of the society, irrespective of their faith and gender,” he said in the statement.
(With PTI inputs)