Rights groups urge USCIRF to flag worsening religious persecution in India

iNDICA News Bureau-

Several U.S.-based civil rights and faith groups and individuals have condemned the pressure being placed on a prominent federal commission to dilute its reporting on religious persecution in India.

In a letter to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) April 10, these organizations and individuals said the commission must withstand the pressure from U.S.-based Hindu nationalists and recommend again that the Department of State-designate India as a ‘country of particular concern’ (CPC), its harshest nomenclature for the world’s worst persecutors of religious minorities.

“It is clear that those seeking to obfuscate the reality of India’s persecution of its religious minorities are now using intense lobbying and combative communication with the goal of preventing USCIRF from recommending India’s designation as a CPC for the third straight year,” the letter said.

“We have also learned that such pressure includes attempts to influence USCIRF commissioners and officials to exclude even a mention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi or his Hindu supremacist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2022 report.”

The very day the groups sent the letter to the USCIRF, communal clashes broke out in five states in India as religious processions taken out to celebrate the Ram Navami festival allegedly indulged in provocative behavior and slogans as they passed through Muslim-dominated areas.

Six days later, fresh clashes broke out in some other places, including in the national capital Delhi, when Hindutva mobs allegedly indulged in similar provocation while taking out Hanuman Jayanti processions through Muslim-dominated areas. Some of the processions were taken out without police permission.

The USCIRF will release April 25 its annual report for 2022. Its previous reports in 2021 and 2020 had recommended that India be designated as a CPC, along with China, Pakistan, Iran, Vietnam, Nigeria and some others. Neither the Trump Administration nor the Biden Administration accepted the recommendation.

Among the organizations that have signed the letter are the Indian American Muslim Council; Hindus for Human Rights; Jubilee Campaign USA; International Christian Concern; India Civil Watch International; Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations; Dalit Solidarity Forum in the USA; Cameroon American Council; Asian Children Education Fellowship; Association of Indian Muslims of America; International Society for Peace and Justice; Justice For All; Dar El Eman; Coeur d’Alene Bible Church; New Life Church; Fresh Heart Ministries; Director of Governmental Affairs, Greentree Global; Spokane Fatherhood Initiative; Indian Muslim Association of Carolinas; Christian Freedom International; and International Asian Christian Front.

“We urge you to not allow Hindu supremacist individuals or organizations to influence the integrity of USCIRF in general and your annual report in particular,” their letter said.

“As you must know, religious persecution in India has only escalated since last year’s publication of USCIRF’s Annual Report 2021. More than ever before, Muslims, Christians and Dalits are under intense attacks and experiencing massive human rights abuses as well as diminishing space for religious freedom.”

Thousands of Muslims, Christians and human rights advocates have been jailed under draconian laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the letter noted. “Vigilante mobs connected to Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have mushroomed across the country, attacking Christians, Muslims and Dalits, often lynching them to death.

“Karnataka, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, three states under BJP rule, have passed highly discriminatory laws targeting these two minority communities in the name of anti-conversion. Churches and mosques are vandalized and outrightly demolished by officials, as happened near the Indian capital of New Delhi and in Uttar Pradesh.

“In December 2021, repeated calls were made by saffron-robed Hindu ‘monks’ calling for a genocide of millions of Muslims, for sexual violence against Muslim women, and much more. The past year also saw the highest attacks on record on Indian Christians, including large-scale assault and vandalism on Christmas Day, December 25.

“The Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India recorded 505 incidents of hate against Christians in 2021, including threats and harassment, physical violence, false accusations of conversion, desecration of houses of worship, arbitrary arrests, hate campaigns, and more. USCIRF must not ignore the significant decline of democracy in India that is accompanied by most horrific forms of religious persecution.

“We urge you to duly record in your Annual Report 2022 the role of the Modi government, the RSS, the BJP, the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and the various state governments, especially in Assam and Uttar Pradesh that are BJP-ruled, in the sharp escalation in the violence against India’s religious minorities.

“We urge you to recommend this year, as you did in 2020 and 2021, that the U.S. Department of State designate India as a Country of Particular Concern, and sanction officials and organizations that are involved in religious persecution. India’s persecuted millions are counting on the international community to defend their right to life and dignity. They desperately need USCIRF to play its part in this regard,” the letter said.