The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has placed India in “negative trajectory” again in its report on 2021.
The commission on Wednesday shared the country-specific report for India on its Twitter account.
The report said that “the government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Recapping the events of 2020, the report states that at the beginning of the year the passage of the “religiously discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act — CAA — resulted in nationwide protests and led to violence from both state and nonstate quarters, “largely targeting Muslims”.
In February, some of the worst violence was seen in New Delhi when Hindu-Muslim riots erupted.
“More than 50 people died and 200 others were injured, mostly Muslims,” reads the report.
“Mobs sympathetic to Hindu nationalism operated with impunity, using brutal force to single out Muslims, attack mosques, and destroy homes and businesses in majority-Muslim neighbourhoods,” it adds.
The report says that the Delhi Minorities Commission inquiry in the aftermath of the violence found police brutality and complicity “seemingly planned and directed to teach a lesson to a certain community which dared to protest against a discriminatory law”.
INTERFAITH MARRIAGE: The report also finds with concern the lengths at which the state enacted policies to prevent interfaith marriages from taking place using the false narrative of “forced conversion”.
In the late 2020, Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, passed an ordinance voiding any marriage conducted for the “sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice-versa”, the report notes.
Similar laws were passed in Madhya Pradesh and are being pushed in several states, including Haryana, Assam, and Karnataka, the USCIRF says.
Hindu nationalist groups also launched “inflammatory campaigns decrying interfaith relationships or engagements, including calling for boycotts and censorship of media depictions of interfaith relationships”.
The efforts to delegitimise interfaith relations “have led to attacks and arrests of non-Hindus and to innuendo, suspicion, and violence toward any interfaith interaction”, the report observes.
The USCIRF further observes that in September, the Indian Parliament amended the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) to increase restrictions on nongovernmental organisations (NGOs).
This led “further stifling civil society and forcing religious organisations and human rights organisations, including those advocating for religious freedom, to shut down”, the report says.
It noted that Amnesty International India was forced to shut down operations in October after authorities froze its bank account.
The report also speaks of the government’s decision to acquit individuals accused of the Babri Mosque demolition, as well as the state’s “inaction to address religious violence contributed to a culture of impunity for those promulgating hate and violence toward religious minorities”.
It mentions how the government also cracked down on those courageous enough to express dissent, noting that the actions included “detaining and even accusing individuals of sedition for their actual or perceived criticism of the CAA and other governmental (in)actions”.
The USCIRF made a set of recommendations to the US government, outlined below:
- Designate India as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
- Impose targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ or entities’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States.
- Advance human rights of all religious communities in India and promote religious freedom and dignity and interfaith dialogue through bilateral and multilateral forums and agreements, such as the ministerial of the Quadrilateral.
- Condemn ongoing religious freedom violations and support religious organisations and human rights groups being targeted for their advocacy of religious freedom.
It also recommended that the US Congress:
- Continue to raise religious freedom concerns in the US-India bilateral relationship and highlight concerns through hearings, briefings, letters, and congressional delegations.