Once again, for the second year running, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) annual report has recommended that India be designated as a “country of particular concern” or CPC. The Commision “monitors/analyzes India’s Harassment/violence against religious minorities, especially Muslims”.
According to the 2021 annual report, released by, Gayle Manchin, who heads the organisation, while 2020 was “challenging for most nations trying to balance public health concerns alongside the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief” it has been recommended that the state department designate “Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan,” which were already on the State Department’s 2020 list “as well as four others—India, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam,” as “countries of particular concern. According to the recommendations that the governments of these nations engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations.”
India had been recommended to be declared a CPC in September 2020 as well by the US Congress-constituted federal body, However, when the State Department made its announcement of nations that were designated CPC in December 2020, India was missing from the list. The countries the State Department designated as CPCs then were Burma, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, all of which, besides Nigeria, it had previously so designated. While in its Annual Report 2020, USCIRF had recommended the inclusion of India in the CPC list along with Russia, Syria and Vietnam, all of whom were also left out. According to news reports India’s Ministry of External Affairs had also highlighted the dissension from three commissioners in the 2020 annual report on the proposal about India.
India has laws restricting religious conversions
The new report mentions that in India, while the Constitution guarantees religious freedom “ten of the 28 states have laws restricting religious conversions. In February, continued protests related to the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which excludes Muslims from expedited naturalisation provisions granted to migrants of other faiths, became violent in New Delhi after counter protesters attacked demonstrators. According to reports, religiously motivated attacks resulted in the deaths of 53 persons, most of whom were Muslim, and two security officials.”
It added even when Covid-19 spread in the country, “Government and media initially attributed some of the spread of Covid-19 in the country to a conference held in New Delhi in March by the Islamic Tablighi Jamaat organisation after media reported that six of the conference’s attendees tested positive for the virus. The Ministry of Home Affairs initially claimed a majority of the country’s early Covid-19 cases were linked to that event. Some members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said conference attendees spread Covid-19 “like terrorism,” which politicians and some media outlets described as “Corona Jihad.”
The report mentioned further violations against minority communities even as the pandemic raged on in particular how “two Christians died in June after being beaten while in police custody for violating the Covid-19 curfews in Tamil Nadu. NGOs reported that nine police officers involved in the incident were charged with murder and destruction of evidence. In June, more than 200 Muslim residents of a village in Uttar Pradesh said they were leaving their homes because of intimidation by state police officials. There were reports by NGOs that the government sometimes failed to prevent or stop attacks on religious minorities. Political party leaders made inflammatory public remarks or social media posts about religious minorities.”
There was a specific reminder how allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef, fuelled communal attacks on Muslims, especially in “Uttar Pradesh police filed charges in 1,716 cases of cow slaughter and made more than 4,000 arrests under the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act as of August. In October, the Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh ruled that the state Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act “was being misused against innocent persons” and granted bail to a Muslim individual arrested under the act.
On Foreign Contributions Regulation Act
Many NGOs, including faith-based organisations, criticized amendments passed in September to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) as “constraining civil society by reducing the amount of foreign funding that NGOs, including religious organisations, could use for administrative purposes and adding onerous oversight and certification requirements,” stated the report. It mentions how in February, the government of India “cancelled the FCRA licenses of five Christian-linked NGOs, cutting off their foreign funding. In September, the NGO Amnesty International India ceased operations in the country after the government froze its bank accounts in response to a FCRA investigation that the NGO says was motivated by its critical reporting against the government.” According to the report, the U.S. government officials discussed the “importance of religious freedom and pluralism, the value of interfaith dialogue, the Muslim community’s concerns about the CAA, and difficulties faced by faith-based and human rights-focused NGOs following the FCRA amendments and allegations that Muslims spread the Covid virus.”
Anti-CAA protests, and the aftermath
The reports highlights “religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism”, and recalled how in January, during anti-CAA protests in New Delhi, “an armed crowd stormed a mosque, killed the muezzin, beat the imam, scattered worshippers, and set the building on fire.” The attacks on Christians were also put on record citing Christian NGOs United Christian Forum’s violence monitor, Evangelical Fellowship of India, Persecution Relief and Alliance for Defense of Freedom’s documentation of hundreds of “instances of attacks or harassment of Christians in the country in the first half of the year, despite the widespread pandemic lockdown, including six rapes and eight murders”. Many of these incidents were reported from Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha etc. It cites how the Delhi Minorities Commission (DMC) report that recorded that Delhi’s anti-Muslim violence was “planned and targeted,” and that “police were filing cases against Muslims for acts of violence but were not acting against Hindu leaders accused of inciting violence, including municipal-level BJP politicians.” According to the report, while “activists, NGOs, and political parties filed petitions against the CAA on the grounds that it added a religious qualification to the country’s historically secular citizenship laws. None of the more than 100 legal challenges had been heard by the Supreme Court as of the year’s end.” The report highlights the ongoing incarceration of Father Stan Swamy, Umar Khalid and other human rights activists.
The executive summary of the report may be read here.
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