The International Religious Freedom Report for 2019 by the United States Department of State has dealt yet another body blow to India’s reputation as a secular country. This report comes close at the heels of several similar reports as well as concerns raised by a variety of international organisations about the widespread hate and discrimination in the country.
The report indicts the country’s present regime for human rights violations in connection with its people’s right to practice any religion of their choice as laid down in the constitution.
The report begins by exposing how this constitutional guarantee has been turned into mere window dressing by various state governments saying, “Nine of the 28 states have laws restricting religious conversions.”
The report then tackles the controversial subject of Kashmir saying, “In August the central government revoked the semiautonomous status of the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir and split it into two union territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The revocation sparked protests, criticism from Muslim leaders, and challenges filed in the Supreme Court from opposition politicians, human rights activists, and others. The government sent thousands of additional security forces to the region, shut down many internet and phone lines, and had not restored full service by year’s end. The government also closed most mosques in the area until mid-December. Seventeen civilians and three security personnel were killed during the protests.”
The report continues to relentlessly tackle one serious violation of human rights based on faith after another by the Indian regime, next taking them to task for the citizenship fiasco saying, “In December parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which accelerates citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who entered the country on or before December 31, 2014, but not for similarly-situated migrants who are Muslims, Jews, atheists, or members of other faiths. The law generated widespread media and religious minority criticism, including legal challenges in the Supreme Court. Protests and violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Uttar Pradesh and Assam following the passage of the law resulted in 25 civilian deaths and hundreds of injuries.”
The Religious Freedom Report also indicts the regime for instances of mob-lynchings, saying, “Issues of religiously inspired mob violence, lynching, and communal violence were sometimes denied or ignored by lawmakers, according to a number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media outlets. There were reports by NGOs that the government sometimes failed to act to prevent or stop mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalized communities, and critics of the government.”
It takes the BJP head on saying, “Some officials of Hindu-majority parties, including from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), made inflammatory public remarks or social media posts against minority communities. Mob attacks by violent Hindu groups against minority communities, including Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumors that victims had traded or killed cows for beef. Authorities often failed to prosecute perpetrators of such ‘cow vigilantism,’ which included killings, mob violence, and intimidation. According to some NGOs, authorities often protected perpetrators from prosecution and filed charges against victims.”
The annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom describes the status of religious freedom in every country. The report covers government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and US policies to promote religious freedom around the world. The US Department of State submits the reports in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. This report covers the period between January 1 and December 31, 2019.
It may be recalled that recently Maria Arena, Chair of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), has written to Indian Home Minister Amit Shah raising serious concerns about the manner in which human rights activists, peaceful protesters and sundry dissenters are being thrown behind bars and being silenced using provisions of the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The DROI is a parliamentary body that actively monitors human rights developments across the globe and publicly advocates in favour of the respect for fundamental rights.
Under-Secretary-General Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide had also raised several key questions about the growth of hate speech and especially the targeting of the Muslim community in wake of the enactment of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the nationwide agitation against it.
Similarly, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released its Annual Report for 2020 that paints a bleak picture of how India is treating her religious minorities. It had recommended that the US Government not only designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), but also impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies.
Following this on May 21, the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) and International Christian Concern (ICC) co-sponsored a virtual Congressional briefing titled “USCIRF Recommendations on India – The Next Steps.” During this briefing, similar concerns had been raised about the plight of religious minorities in India.
However, just hours after the US secretary of State Mike Pompeo released the report Indian authorities allegedly responded by declining to give visas to members of USCIRF stating they had no locus standi to make pronouncements on Indian citizens.
The entire International Religious Freedom Report (India) may be read here: