Link India aid to human rights and civil liberties improvements: US Congress body


Amidst all the efforts to bolster US-India bilateral ties, the US Congressional Research Service (CSR) has raised a voice of dissent. The CSR has recommended that the American government should link all its future aid to India to improvements in human rights and civil liberties status in the South Asian nation.

CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff to congressional committees and members of Congress in the US. It operates solely at the behest of and under the direction of Congress. Details provided in CRS reports are meant for public understanding. CRS approaches complex topics from a variety of perspectives and examines all sides of an issue. Congress relies on CRS to marshal interdisciplinary resources, encourage critical thinking and create innovative frameworks to help legislators form sound policies and reach decisions on a host of difficult issues.

The “In Focus” report of CSR titled “India: Human Rights Assessments” states: “India is identified by the US government agencies, the United Nations, and some nongovernmental organizations as the site of numerous human rights abuses, many of them significant, some seen as perpetrated by agents of both state and federal governments.”

In light of these assertions, the report proposes, “The Biden Administration requests $117 million in foreign assistance to India for FY2023. Congress could consider whether or not to condition some or all of such aid on improvements in human rights and civil liberties in India.”

Raising the accusatory finger against the government of India the report of K. Alan Kronstadt, a specialist in South Asian Affairs, claims in the section on religious freedom that the “scope and scale of such abuses reportedly have increased under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party”, especially after their convincing reelection in 2019.

“Many analyses also warn of democratic backsliding in India. For example, since 2019, the Sweden-based Varieties of Democracies project has classified India as “an electoral autocracy.” In 2021, US-based nonprofit Freedom House re-designated India as “Partly Free,” contending that “Modi and his party are tragically driving India itself toward authoritarianism,” with negative implications for global democratic trends. The New Delhi government issued a “rebuttal” of the Freedom House conclusions, calling them “misleading, incorrect, and misplaced”,” the report says.

On religious freedom the report quotes the State Department’s 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF): “Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year” in India.

The CSR report quotes top US government officials: “The Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “We’ve seen rising attacks on people and places of worship” in India, and the US Ambassador at Large for IRF added, “In India some officials are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship.”

The CSR report also contains the rebuttal from the Indian government against these statements and reports: “The Indian government’s response noted what it called “ill-informed comments by senior US officials” and suggested that the IRF report was “based on motivated inputs and biased views.”

Since 2020, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that the Secretary of State designate India as a Country of Particular of Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act “due to the Indian government’s promotion of Hindu nationalism, and engagement and facilitation of systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

In March 2022, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR) expressed concern about “recent statements and actions expressing hatred and violence against religious minority communities” in India, in particular two incidents. in late 2021, when Hindu nationalist leaders “called for the murder of Muslims, in a context purporting to make India a Hindu nation.” She also decried “problematic” religious conversion bans that “may foster hatred or even violence.”

The report also blames the government for infringing on press freedom. It says, “The State Department’s 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Human Rights Reports or HRRs) states that, while the Indian government generally respected press freedom in 2021, “there were instances in which the government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including through online trolling.”

The report also points toward the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2022 Press Freedom Index that ranks India 150th among 180 countries (just below Turkey; the United States is 42nd), down from 142nd in 2021 and continuing a six-year downward trend.

On freedom of expression in India, the CSR report says, “According to the 2021 HRR, violations of online freedoms in 2021 included restrictions on access to the internet, disruptions of access to the internet, censorship of online content, and reports the government occasionally monitored users of digital media, as well as “use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech.”

“The State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report places India in the “Tier 2” category, meaning its government “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so. … However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas,” including “inadequate” anti-trafficking efforts against bonded labor and increasing acquittal rates (89%) for accused traffickers,” the report adds.

“The 2021 HRR finds “overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operations of nongovernmental [NGOs] and civil society organizations” in India, as well as “government harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations,” says the CSR report which also critically examines several other issues.