For the fourth consecutive year, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended to the state department to designate India as a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)” for “engaging in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom”.
The recommendation was made by the USCIRF — an independent, bipartisan US federal government agency created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act to monitor the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad — to the state department in its annual report released on Monday.
While recommending that India be placed on the CPC list, the USCIRF also advocated the imposition of 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 US under human rights-related financial and visa authorities, citing specific religious freedom violations.
Neither the Trump administration in 2020 nor the Biden dispensation since then has entertained this recommendation of the USCIRF.Asked if the state department was going to consider including India among the CPC countries, principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel remained non-committal.In any case, the state department announces its decision on these recommendations a few weeks after they are received.
In his response, Patel said: “The US Commission on International Religious Freedom is an independent US commission established to provide policy recommendations to the President, to the secretary of state, and Congress.It is not a branch of the state department or the executive branch, and its report reflects the importance of religious freedom to the American people.While the report’s recommendations for designations overlap for some extent with the state department’s lists of Country of Particular Concern, it is not entirely conclusive.Governments or other entities that have questions or comments about this report should reach out to the commission directly.”
The detailed chapter on India in the USCIRF report noted that religious freedom conditions “continued to worsen” in 2022.”Throughout the year, the Indian government at the national, state and local levels promoted and enforced religiously discriminatory policies, including laws targeting religious conversion, interfaith relationships, the wearing of hijabs, and cow slaughter, which negatively impact Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits and Adivasis.
“The national government also continued to suppress critical voices — particularly religious minorities and those advocating on their behalf — including through surveillance, harassment, demolition of property and detention under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and by targeting nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).”
The politics of bulldozers too finds mention in the report, which is an analysis of a compilation of incidents that take place in various countries during the year.
As always, India rejected the USCIRF report.External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the commission “continues to regurgitate biased and motivated comments about India, this time in its 2023 annual report”.
Stating that India rejects such “misrepresentation of facts, which only serves to discredit the USCIRF itself’’, the ministry urged the commission to develop a better understanding of India, “its plurality, its democratic ethos and its constitutional mechanisms”.
Successive governments at the Centre have dismissed USCIRF reports and maintained a public stance of being unfazed by such criticism.