Local Christians React to USCIRF Recommending India as a Country of Particular Concern
By ICC’s India Correspondent
05/22/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Last month, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended India be designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) in its 2020 Annual Report. In that report, USCIRF detailed the deterioration of religious freedom in India and the growing intolerance experienced by the country’s religious minorities.
Government leaders in India were quick to reject USCIRF’s recommendation and condemned the report on India.
“We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF Annual Report,” External Affairs Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told the Hindustan Times. “[USCIRF’s] biased and tendentious comments against India are not new.”
“But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels,” Srivastava continued. “We regard [USCIRF] as an organization of particular concern and will treat it accordingly.”
In response to the USCIRF recommendation and India’s rejection of USCIRF’s observations, International Christian Concern (ICC) interviewed several Indian Christians from different segments of society. ICC asked these Christians about their thoughts on India being recommended for the CPC designation and its rejection of the USCIRF report.
ICC first talked with Pastor Ramesh. On March 15, Pastor Ramesh and three other Christians were attacked by a mob of radical Hindu nationalists and then brutally tortured by police in Uttar Pradesh.
“The attack on us was the second attack in our area this year,” Pastor Ramesh shared with ICC. “There is no freedom for us to have a worship service, and we are not allowed to even gather during the weekdays for prayers.”
“We are targeted, humiliated, and often beaten up physically because we follow the Christian faith,” Pastor Ramesh continued. “There is a sense of fear among the Christians because police always work along with the radicals. Even during the COVID-19 lockdown, radicals pass by our premises to see if we are conducting worship. They are ready to report on us if there is any.”
Next, ICC talked to Father Raja, a church leader who oversees almost 500 congregations across five states in India.
“On average, at least two attacks take place on our congregations every month,” Father Raja told ICC. “There is no count for milder incidents like threats and abuses. Religious freedom is deteriorating year by year, and there is a growing fear among religious minorities, particularly among Christians.”
When ICC asked Father Raja about India’s rejection of USCIRF’s report, he said, “What they say and what they do does not match at all. If the government is denying the findings in the report, then they want to hide the facts to protect their international image.”
“All we are asking is to be allowed to worship the God of our choice,” Father Raja concluded.
Finally, ICC talked with Dr. John Dayal, spokesperson for the United Christian Forum in India. Specifically, ICC asked Dr. Dayal for his thoughts about USCIRF recommending India to be designated as a CPC.
“It is not correct to say that religious minorities welcome India being declared a Country of Particular Concern,” Dr. Dayal responded. “What citizen would want his or her motherland proved of being intolerant of its children?”
“The targeting of religious minorities, which has gotten worse in recent years and peaked in December 2019, leaves nothing to the imagination,” Dr. Dayal continued. “The abuse, murders, assaults, police impunity, fake charges, false arrests, extrajudicial detentions, and the rest threatens to reduce tens of millions to the status of second-class citizens.”
If the U.S. State Department accepts USCIRF’s recommendation on India, India will be added to a list of countries where systematic and egregious violations of religious freedom have been officially documented and recognized. This designation would open India to a list of potential sanctions attached to being designated a CPC.
In recent years, attacks on Christians and their places of worship in India have increased in both number and severity. Much of this growing violence comes from the promotion and normalization of Hindu nationalism by India’s current government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In 2014, the year the BJP took power in India, the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) documented 147 violent attacks on India’s Christian community. In 2019, after five years of BJP rule, the number of attacks documented by EFI increased to 366.