USCIRF flags significant worsening of religious freedom in India

iNDICA News Bureau-

The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that India, along with eleven other countries, be designated as a country of particular concern, or CPC, for engaging in and tolerating systematic, continuing and egregious violations of religious freedom as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act.

The USCIRF, a quasi-judicial body constituted by Congress, made the recommendation to the Joseph R Biden Administration in view of a ‘significant worsening’ of religious freedom in India over the past year.

The commission’s recommendations are not binding on the U.S. administration. Last year, too, the USCIRF had recommended that India be added to the CPC list, but the Administration did not do so.

The commission noted in its report that India’s government had escalated its promotion and enforcement of policies — including those promoting a Hindu-nationalist agenda — that negatively affect Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits and other religious minorities.

It said the government continues to put in place its ideological vision of a Hindu state at the national and state levels through the use of existing as well as new laws and structural changes hostile to the country’s religious minorities.

It recommended that targeted sanctions be imposed upon individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing their assets and barring their entry into the U.S.

It also recommended that the Administration advance the human rights of all religious communities in India and promote religious freedom, dignity and interfaith dialogue through bilateral and multilateral forums and agreements, including the Quadrilateral.

It further urged Congress to raise issues of religious freedom in the U.S.-India bilateral relationship and highlight concerns through hearings, briefings, letters and congressional delegations.

The commission noted that India’s government had been repressing critical voices — especially of religious minorities and those reporting on and advocating for them — through harassment, investigation, detention and prosecution under laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code section relating to sedition.

It said the UAPA and sedition law had been invoked to create a climate of intimidation and fear in an effort to silence anyone speaking out against the government. It highlighted the case of the octogenarian Jesuit priest and human rights activist Father Stan Swamy who was arrested in October 2020 on what it described as dubious charges and never tried. Fr Stan died in custody in July 2021.

It also highlighted the arrests of and criminal complaints and investigations against journalists and human rights advocates documenting religious persecution and violence, including Khurram Parvez, a prominent Muslim human rights advocate who has reported on abuses in Jammu & Kashmir.

It said the government was broadly targeting individuals documenting or sharing information about violence against Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities.

It noted that all these actions were in line with the desire of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government, which has been in place since 2014, to turn India into an overtly Hindu state, at odds with the country’s secular Constitution and endangering its religious minorities.

The other eleven countries that the USCIRF has recommended being placed in the CPC list with India are Burma, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

India in the past has rejected the USCIRF’s report saying the body was guided only by its biases in a matter in which it has no standing and citing the constitutional protections provided to citizens which the USCIRF says are being endangered.