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5/16/2023 India (International Christian Concern) — At an annual event on Monday in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke alongside Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain to highlight religious persecution around the world. The event also served as a launch for the 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF), a report widely considered among the most authoritative sources on the topic of religious persecution. 

Prior to the event, a senior Dept. of State official briefed reporters via conference call. Among other points, the official highlighted the persecution of religious minorities in India, including “lynching and other hate-fueled violence, attacks on houses of worship and home demolitions, and in some cases impunity and even clemency for those who’ve engaged in attacks on religious minorities.” Local Indian authorities so consistently fail the bring persecutors to justice that many attackers film their attacks, even livestreaming them on social media. 

The U.S. has engaged with the Indian government on the issue of persecution for years. In September 2022, the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia met with Indian government officials “to encourage positive messaging on pluralism and tolerance and respecting human rights, including religious freedom,” according to the 2022 IRF report. Other officials met with civil society leaders and members of persecuted religious minorities to understand their situation more thoroughly. 

Ambassador Hussain’s remarks touched briefly on India, mentioning the country in reference to a case of hate speech against Muslims in Hadiwar. Secretary Blinken did not mention India in his remarks, instead highlighting China, Nicaragua, Iran, and Burma. 

Violence against religious minorities has steadily increased since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014. He and his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, ascribe to a nationalist philosophy which sees India as a Hindu nation and leaves little room for other faiths. He has consistently moved to restrict the political and civil rights of religious minorities. Muslims, who are heavily targeted by the Modi government, make up just 14% of the population. Christians have remained a steady 2.3% for many years. 

India is an important strategic partner for the U.S. given its proximity to China and the significant economic weight it can lend to the U.S. in its struggle against China. Modi is due to visit Washington next month. The issue of religious freedom has long been a sore point between the two countries, with India regularly expressing outrage at U.S. criticism of its deteriorating record. 

The Dept. of State can designate countries as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) or include them on its Special Watch List (SWL). Such designations carry with them the threat of various sanctions, though these are often waived. Though India could be included as a CPC or SWL country later this year, it has not traditionally been included on either list despite consistent calls from human rights watchdog organizations and, in recent years, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. 

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