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ICC Note:

India continues to react badly to comments from the U.S. government regarding the state of religious freedom in India. Following an open letter signed by 34 members of the U.S. Congress expressing grave concerns over rising intolerance, India decided to deny entry visas to members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) who were set to travel to India and monitor the state of religious intolerance. Will India continue to react badly to international efforts to assess the status of religious freedom in India or will they finally allow outside monitoring to come in and give an honest assessment? 

3/15/2016 India (Global Post) – India’s human rights record has been a checkered one. The most recent report by the United States government’s religious freedom watchdog suggests that the latest chapter is no different: It describes increasing communal violence, derogatory remarks on minorities by ruling party politicians and forced conversions at the hands of Hindu nationalists, a litany of persecution that prompted the monitors to maintain India on their list of countries that require special attention from the US government, alongside Russia, Afghanistan, Cuba and others.

India’s response: Bar the monitors from the country.

Earlier this month the Indian government denied visas to a delegation from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), who had planned to travel to India to further investigate the state of religious liberty. But they were abruptly told that they weren’t welcome.

“The Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens including the right to freedom of religion,” the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC said in a statement. “We do not see the locus standi of a foreign entity like USCIRF to pass its judgment and comment on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.”

The commission said it was “deeply disappointed” by the decision, pointing out that it had been allowed entry to countries considered more oppressive than India, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China.

“One would expect that the Indian government would allow for more transparency than have these nations, and would welcome the opportunity to convey its views directly to USCIRF,” chairman Robert P. George commented.

It’s not the first time India has reacted badly to accusations of intolerance. When US President Barack Obama called on India to improve protections for religious minorities after visiting the country in January 2015, commentators here insisted that there was no country as tolerant as India — and said it was a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Prime Minister Narendra Modi nonetheless went on to promise that his administration would ensure “complete freedom of faith.”

The commission’s concerns, however, are far from baseless. In its 2015 report, USCIRF documents a spike in religiously motivated violence over the last three years. The report describes the violence and arbitrary arrests that Indian Muslims have faced since terror attacks by Islamist extremists, as well as attacks on Christians and churches, harassment of Sikhs, and the forcible “reconversion” of non-Hindus.

“Religious minority communities frequently accuse … Hindu-nationalist groups and individuals of intolerance, discrimination, and violence against them,” states USCIRF, which also cites complaints that police fail to investigate such crimes. “Religious minority communities voice concern that high-ranking [members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party] protect or provide support to these groups.”

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