A US commission recommended that India be placed on a blacklist for religious freedom, drawing attention to the deteriorating treatment of minorities in the country. The annaul report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has given this reccomendation for the second year in a row. 

The commission, which offers recommendations but does not set US policy, said in its annual report that “religious freedom conditions in India continued their negative trajectory.”

The Indian government last year responded angrily to the call by the commission even when there is little chance that the State Department will take its advice and condemn India, an increasingly close US ally against China. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government “promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom”, it said.

The report spoke of police complicity in violence against Muslims during deadly riots last year in New Delhi and continued concerns over a citizenship law championed by Modi that critics say defines Muslims as non-Indian. It also said the Indian government has been stifling dissent and voiced concern over the rise of restrictions on inter-faith marriages including in India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh.

The commission recommended that the State Department designate India as a “country of particular concern”, a blacklist that includes China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Other nations already on the State Department’s blacklist — which paves the way for sanctions if they do not improve their records — are Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, Nigeria, North Korea, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Earlier this year, a report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) on India concluded that the government has adopted policies and laws that systematically discriminate against Muslims. The report further added that the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s prejudiced policies have eroded independent institutions, such as the police and the courts, empowering nationalist groups to threaten, harass, and attack religious minorities with impunity.

The report came ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Delhi riots that claimed the lives of 53 people, 40 of them being Muslims. The international watchdog claims that the investigative authorities were complicit in the attacks, and allegations of BJP leaders inciting the violence were investigated impartially instead of targeting activists and protest organizers. 

“The BJP’s embrace of the Hindu majority at the expense of minorities has seeped into government institutions, undermining equal protection of the law without discrimination,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government has not only failed to protect Muslims and other minorities from attacks but is providing political patronage and cover for bigotry,” HRW had said. 

In addition to India, the commission called on the State Department to add Russia, Syria and Vietnam to the blacklist.


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