By Matias Perttula
10/27/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – A few weeks ago, I published a piece arguing why India deserves to be labeled as a Country of Particular Concern. While State Department has not yet announced a decision on the designation, the case merits a reiteration as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visits the region this week.
When any country is labeled as a CPC, the US (by law) takes action against the persecuting country to varying degrees including possible sanctions as described in the 1998 IRF Act. In the case of India, since it has been recommended by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) as a CPC for the first time since 2004, it is possible that that this single recommendation may prompt serious consideration among Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration to take significant steps to curb potential ramification of the designation. However, based on the Administration’s past actions, it seems as though this may not be the case.
In fact, India’s domestic bolstering only reasserts their growing commitment to the radical Hindu nationalist ambitions. Recent events and rhetoric emanating from the thugs that control the bullhorn of the ruling BJP and RSS are only amplifying their ongoing perverse demonization of Christians and religious minorities.
The Trump Administration has gambled by allying itself to Modi with a growing partnership in the region. While this is a calculated maneuver in the Trump Administration’s China containment policy, the weak confrontation of the increasing discrimination is a signal to Modi to continue their supremacist agenda.
The US should not ignore this. In fact, the US can pursue a partnership with India while confidently and intentionally engaging the Indian leadership on its disastrous domestic situation.
First, the US should pressure the Indian government to allow official visitation from USCIRF, whose commissioners and representatives have been denied access for years. The Indian government and its Washington-based allies have repeatedly criticized the commission for its apparent bias and faulty research. Nothing could be further from the truth as the commission continues to operate with the highest integrity in conducting its research. A visit from the commission would be an olive branch effort from the Indian government to show good faith in moving the issue forward.
Second, the US should pressure the Indian leadership in bilateral negotiations to condemn the public incitement of violence by BJP and RSS officials. Inflammatory rhetoric is one of the greatest tools used by the fanatical Indian leadership to encourage communal violence against Christians and religious minorities. Through a bold action of leadership in this regard, the Indian administration could begin to rebuild the deficit of trust they’ve developed through their radical agenda.
Third, the US should encourage India to create a legitimate domestic commission to pressure local municipalities in India to enforce the rule of law and generate the constructive intercommunal engagement between differing religious groups. Civic engagement through various civil society entities will be a key in mitigating the religious division within India. As exemplified in other countries, such engagement serves as a trust-building mechanism for policy crafting in the domestic context, providing avenues by which the government can listen to its own citizens.
Finally, the United States should begin a religious engagement program in partnership with India to cultivate greater religious literacy between the varying faith groups. While civil society programs work well in this context, the government of India should lead in this facet. Given its troublesome recent history with deepening religious divisions, the government of India must take decisive action in supporting and cultivating mechanisms that promote the religiously diverse context of India as set forth in its constitution. The Indian populace must welcome the opportunity to engage in religious discussion without the fear of being wrongly accused of attempted forceful conversion or blasphemy. Religious and theological discussion must be welcomed and all Indians deserve to be guaranteed the opportunity to engage in such dialogue.
Matias Perttula serves as the Advocacy Director for International Christian Concern where he leads the government relations efforts to mobilize the US government to address issues of persecution in countries where religious minorities are oppressed and the freedom of religion is in decline.