Following another year where the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called out India for religious freedom violations, the Commission is calling for the U.S. Government to take a more proactive role in India’s deteriorating religious freedom situation. Attacks on India’s religious minorities, such as Christians and Muslims, have continued to increase with India’s government showing little interest in taking on the issue. USCIRF has called on the U.S. Government to include religious freedom concerns in all bilateral communications between India and the U.S. in hopes that this will motivate the Indian Government in reversing its negative religious freedom trajectory.
5/13/2016 India (The Citizen) – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, backed by the US administration, has in its 2016 Annual Report included India in its Tier 2 list of countries whose “governments engage in or tolerate at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing and egregious” standard but do not fully meet the those countries whose government engages in or tolerates at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” standard, but do not fully meet the Countries of Particular Concern standard.” India shares the honors with Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, and Turkey.
The Indian government has, of course rejected this report that names the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Sarup said, “We take no cognizance of the report.” But the issue is whether the US administration takes cognizance of it, and to what extent, given the fact that the USCIRF has been gathering strength and influence in Washington, determining policy towards the countries under its scanner. And raising issues from time to time. It has also recommended that the State Department add the following eight countries to its list of “countries of particular concern,” defined under law as countries where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are tolerated or perpetrated: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, and Vietnam. And that the following nine countries be re-designated as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Although India is in the august company of US allies like Saudi Arabia, its religious freedom record has been strongly criticized. It might be recalled that during his visit US President Barack Obama, just before leaving for the US, had raised the issue of religious freedom at his speech at the Siri Fort auditorium in what many had interpreted here as a ‘parting shot’ of criticism for the attacks on religious minorities at the time.
In its recommendations the Commission sees a more proactive role for the US government maintaining that it should
Since 2004, the United States and India have pursued a strategic relationship based on shared concerns about energy, security, and the growing threat of terrorism, as well as shared values of democracy and the rule of law. As part of this important relationship, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. government should: “Integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateral contacts with India, including the framework of future Strategic Dialogues, at both the federal and provincial level, and encourage the strengthening of the capacity of state and central police to implement effective measures to prohibit and punish cases of religious violence and protect victims and witnesses.