WASHINGTON: “Perhaps the steepest, and most alarming, deterioration in religious freedom conditions was in India, the largest democracy in the world,” an official US report said on Tuesday.
The report, compiled by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), recommended that India be declared a “country of particular concern.”
“We are seeing impunity for violence by non-state actors committed against religious minorities,” said Ted Perkins, the commission’s chairman.
“India took a sharp downward turn in 2019, with religious minorities under increasing assault,” the USCIRF, which is a bipartisan agency of the federal government, observed.
Nadine Maenza, the USCIRF’s vice chairman, said India had “tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom”.
The most “startling and disturbing”, she added, was the passage of a citizenship amendment act that fast-tracked citizenship for newcomers who belong to six religions, but excluded Muslims.
“This potentially exposes millions of Muslims to detention, deportation and statelessness when the government completes its plan for a nationwide, national register,” she said.
The designation by the US Secretary of State, is used against of a nation guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom under the US International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998.
The charges against India include torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; prolonged detention without charges; causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons and other flagrant denials of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.
Nations so designated are subject to further actions, including economic sanctions, by the United States unless the administration grants it a “national interest” waiver, as it does for Pakistan.
The report criticises the enactment of India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), continued enforcement of cow slaughter and anti-conversion laws, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Babri Masjid, and revocation of the special status of India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Although Pakistan has also been described as a country for particular concern, the report acknowledged a number of positive developments, including opening of the Kartarpur corridor for Sikhs, opening of the country’s first Sikh university, the reopening of a Hindu temple, acquittal of Aasia Bibi and some Supreme Court decisions on blasphemy.
“One of the things that has been important for us with Pakistan, is that the government has been willing to engage in dialogue about how Religious Freedom concerns can be addressed,” said USCIRF commissioner Anurima Bhargava.
Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2020