India calls USCIRF comments on violations of religious freedom biased


The US commission has expressed concern over repression of ‘critical voices’

A day after the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed concern over the “repression of critical voices” in India and posted a string of Tweets alleging “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom” in the country, the Government of India hit back, calling the US commission’s comments “biased and reflecting a severe lack of understanding of India”. The statement issued by a government spokesperson also questioned the “credibility and objectivity” of USCIRF.

As part of its 2022 annual report, the US commission has recommended that the Biden government should designate India, China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, along with 11 other nations as “countries of particular concern” (CPC) for violating religious freedom. The recommendations, however, are not binding and the US government is not obligated to follow them.

Responding to media queries on USCIRF’s comments on India, the official spokesperson of the Indian government, Arindam Bagchi said on Saturday: “We have seen the biased and inaccurate comments on India by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). These comments reflect a severe lack of understanding of India and its constitutional framework, its plurality and its democratic ethos.”

“Regrettably, USCIRF continues to misrepresent facts time and again in its statements and reports in pursuance of its motivated agenda. Such actions only serve to strengthen concerns about the credibility and objectivity of the organization,” Bagchi added in his Tweet posted in rebuttal of the USCIRF’s comments.

Indian government’s response comes just hours after USCIRF scathing remarks made by USCIRF and its commissioners on Twitter.

On its Twitter handle the USCIRF has said: “USCIRF recommends #India be designated as a CPC for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, including the repression of critical voices speaking out against these violations.”

USCIRF Commissioner David Curry tweeted: “USCIRF is concerned about the Indian government’s continued repression of critical voices— especially religious minorities and those reporting on and advocating for them.”

In his tweet, USCIRF Commissioner @StephenSchneck has said: “Human rights advocates, journalists, activists, and faith leaders in #India face harassment for speaking out and reporting religious freedom conditions. This is not reflective of a country with a history of democracy.”

These comments on the social media platform has triggered a controversy that rages on with supporters of India and USCIRF locking horns.

In its annual report for 2022 the US commission has stated pointed towards alleged violations of religious freedom in India. In the “key findings” of the India section in the report the commission has alleged: “In 2021, religious freedom conditions in India significantly worsened. During the year, the Indian government 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. The government continued to systemize its ideological vision of a Hindu state at both the national and state levels through the use of both existing and new laws and structural changes hostile to the country’s religious minorities.”

The report also accuses the Indian government of repressing “critical voices— especially religious minorities and those reporting on and advocating for them—through harassment, investigation, detention, and prosecution.”

The report also blames the Indian government for erecting hurdles against the licensure and receipt of international funding by religious and charitable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), significantly impacting religious communities.

USCIRF, in its recent-most report, has also alleged that in India, numerous groups that document religious freedom violations or aid marginalized religious communities have been forced to shut down operations. “At the close of 2021, the licenses of nearly 6,000 organizations, including religious and humanitarian organizations were not renewed,” the report added.

Recommendations made by the USCIRF to the US government:

* Designate India as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom , as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA)

* Impose targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ or entities’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States

* Advance human rights of all religious communities in India and promote religious freedom, dignity, and interfaith dialogue through bilateral and multilateral forums and agreements, such as the ministerial of the Quadrilateral.

* The U.S. Congress should raise religious freedom issues in the US-India bilateral relationship and highlight concerns through hearings, briefings, letters, and congressional delegations.