Pictured: Burned vehicles and buildings in New Delhi on February 26, 2020, following intercommunal rioting. (Photo by Prakash Singh/AFP via Getty Images)
It is astonishing to note that the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Report, released by the US Department of State on June 10, 2020, ranks India on its lowest grade, “Countries of Particular Concern (CPC).” The report recommends that the US State Department meet people from India’s “religiously persecuted” communities and slap sanctions on the agencies and officials responsible for the predicament of the affected.
The report also groups India with countries, such as China, Iran, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia, which have long been notorious for their religious freedom rights violations. It says that India’s newly passed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) makes the Muslims in the country “bear the indignities and consequences of potential statelessness.” It also claims that the Narendra Modi government allows “campaigns of harassment and violence” against Muslims and other religious minorities.
The report suggests that the government-perpetuated discrimination against religious minorities in India can be discerned in the newly changed status of the Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir region, the enactment of the cow-slaughter and anti-conversion laws, the inflammatory remarks of some Hindu-majority parties against minority communities, and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Babri mosque case. The report also alleges that in February this year “, three days of violence erupted in New Delhi with mobs attacking Muslim neighborhoods.” Finally, it adds that innocent members of minority communities “are being punished under India’s cow protection laws” that prohibit the export or import of beef.
It is hard to believe that the Modi government allows any campaign of harassment and violence against Muslims and other religious minorities. Ironically, successive governments in India have generally resorted to a policy of appeasing minorities in a bid to attract more votes. The Modi government has been no exception.
The 2019 manifesto of the Modi’s party talks of the empowerment and “development with dignity’ of all minorities, including Muslims and Christians.” During the Modi government (2014-19), the representation of minorities in India’s employed by the central government increased from just about 4.9% to 9.8% . The Modi government’s “New 15-Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities” gives a fair percentage of the priority sector lending to the minority communities .
The claim made in the report that the Citizenship Amendment Act is anti-Muslim simply is not true. None of the provisions in this legislation harms Muslim citizens in India . The legislation just seeks to fast-track citizenship to refugees from the Hindu, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh and Zoroastrian communities who face religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan and who fled to India. India’s Home Minister Amit Shah has clarified that the CAA will not take away the citizenship of any Muslims.
Clearly, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is to blame for these pitfalls in this report. The Commission authored this report and submitted it to the US Congress on April 29, 2020. The USCIRF apparently based its India report on the versions of evidently hostile non-governmental organizations and media outlets.
Even in doing that, the USCIRF has not been fair. It did not care to note the plight in India of religious communities other than Muslims and Christians. It ignored how the Hindus and Sikhs in Kashmir still continue to feel about their right freely to practice their religions. It ignored how some Christian and Islamic missionaries have been converting Hindus to Christianity and Islam.
In its depiction of the incidents of violence in New Delhi and other parts of India, the USCIRF has been one-sided. It reported on the alleged activities of the disruptive elements in the Hindu community but meanwhile overlooked those of the disruptive elements in the Muslim community. In a court hearing, India’s Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told Chief Justice of India S A Bobde that both Hindus and Muslims “indulged in hate speech” against each other during the February riots. The USCIRF did not care to note that some Hindus alleged that the Muslims had started the violence. The USCIRF also overlooked reports suggesting some Muslim leaders had been preparing for riots since January.
One hopes that in view of the glaring lapses in the current USCIRF’s India report, the Trump administration would review it. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should not accept the USCIRF’s current recommendation to slap sanctions on India, and he should instead investigate if the USCIRF today is operating in a truly professional way. If US President Donald J. Trump is determined to promote religious freedom the world over, he also need to call upon other nations vastly more abusive than India is to “end religious persecution.”
Jagdish N. Singh is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.
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