Serious mismatch between Indian reality and freedoms guaranteed in Constitution: US report on religious freedom

A new report released by US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) highlights serious assaults on religious freedom in India during 2015

US Report
“India’s pluralistic tradition faces serious challenges in a number of its states. During the past few years, religious tolerance has deteriorated and religious freedom violations have increased in some areas of India. To reverse this negative trajectory, the Indian and state governments must align their laws with both the country’s constitutional commitments and international human rights standards.” 

While acknowledging that, “India is a religiously diverse and democratic society with a constitution that provides legal equality for its citizens irrespective of their religion and prohibits religion-based discrimination, the reality is quite different”.

These were the observations of Thomas J Reese, SJ, Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) while releasing a new USCIRF-sponsored report, Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India, prepared by Dr. Iqtidar Karamat Cheema, Director of the Institute for Leadership and Community Development, based in England.

The report is based on an analysis of India’s constitution and national and state laws that violate the religious freedom of both minority communities and Hindu Dalits.

The study highlights opportunities for the Indian government to revise laws so that they would align with the country’s constitution and international human rights standards. The study also makes recommendations to the US government on ways to promote religious freedom in India.

Key findings of the report:

  • In 2015, religious tolerance deteriorated and religious freedom violations increased in India. Minority communities, especially Christians, Muslims and Sikhs, experience numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups.
  • Members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tacitly supported these groups and used religiously-divisive language to further inflame tensions.
  • These issues, combined with longstanding problems of police bias and judicial inadequacies, have created a pervasive climate of impunity, where religious minority communities feel increasingly insecure, with no recourse when religiously-motivated crimes occur.
  • In the last year (2015), “higher caste” individuals and local political leaders also prevented Hindus considered part of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Dalits) from entering religious temples.
  • Additionally, the national government or state governments applied several laws to restrict religious conversion, cow slaughter, and foreign funding of NGOs.
  • Moreover, an Indian constitutional provision deeming Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains to be Hindus contradicts international standards of freedom of religion or belief.
  • Based on these concerns, USCIRF again places India on Tier 2, where it has been since 2009. However, USCIRF notes that India is on a negative trajectory in terms of religious freedom.
  • USCIRF will continue to monitor the situation closely during the year ahead to determine if India should be recommended to the US State Department for designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.     

Further information on the status of religious freedom in India may be accessed here.
2016 Annual Report.



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