29/04/2020 9:01 AM IST

Indian Govt Allowed Violence Against Minorities, Engaged In And Tolerated Hate Speech: USCIRF

This is the first time since 2004 that USCIRF has recommended India as a Country of Particular Concern.

Amit Dave / Reuters
Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against a new citizenship law, in Ahmedabad, India, March 3, 2020. 

The US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its 2020 annual report, placed India on its list of 14 nations recommended for designation as Countries of Particular Concern by the United States’ State Department.

USCIRF  said that the designation meant that governments of these countries engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, egregious” violations of religious freedom.

This is the first time since 2004 that USCIRF has recommended India as a Country of Particular Concern.

In the 2020 edition of its annual report on International Religious Freedom, the USCIRF said that in 2019, religious freedom conditions in India experienced a drastic turn downward, with religious minorities under increasing assault.

The report said: “Following the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) re-election in May, the national government used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims. The national government allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity, and also engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence.”

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act “potentially exposes millions of Muslims to detention, deportation, and statelessness when the government completes its planned nationwide National Register of Citizens”, USCIRF Vice Chair Nadine Maenza said.

The report highlights nationwide protests against the passage of CAA, the abrogation of Article 370 which gave autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, mob lynching of people suspected of cow slaughter, as well as the Delhi riots in February.

The report also mentions home minister Amit Shah’s reference to migrants as “termites” to be eradicated, refers to reports of Delhi Police failing to stop the riots and even directly participating in the violence, and mentions UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath saying anti-CAA protestors should be fed “bullets not biryani.”

It said that government action throughout 2019 “created a culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities”.

The report recommends that the US State Department 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 under human rights-related financial and visa authorities, citing specific religious freedom violations.

It also asks the US Congress to continue to hold hearings highlighting religious freedom conditions in India and US policy toward India.

Two of the commission’s nine members expressed their dissent over the USCIRF recommendation to place India in the CPC. 

“The trend line on religious freedom in India is not reassuring. But India is not the equivalent of communist China, which wages war on all faiths; nor of North Korea, a prison masquerading as a country; nor of Iran, whose Islamic extremist leaders regularly threaten to unleash a second Holocaust. India is our ally. A young democracy, it only gained its sovereign freedom in 1947. I hope and pray India’s leaders will resist the impulse to punish or restrict any of their citizens based on faith. The United States should raise our concern over restrictions on religious liberty in all bilateral communications and negotiations with India, as allies do. I am deeply concerned that this public denunciation risks exactly the opposite outcome than the one we all desire,” Commissioner Gary L Bauer wrote in his dissent note.

Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee also agreed that India did not belong to the same category as authoritarian regimes like China and North Korea, noting that the CAA has been challenged openly by the Congress Party and lawmakers, civil society, and various groups.

“I am not oblivious to the worst interreligious conflicts and the partition of India. However, as major news sources reported, even during the violence over the CAA, Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus protected each other’s homes and places of worship from mob violence and held interfaith ceremonies,” he wrote.

India’s response

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said late Tuesday, “We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF annual report. Its 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,” he said.