Some officials in India are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship in the country, a United States official said late on Thursday after the release of a report on religious freedom globally in 2021.
The report said attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, had occurred throughout last year in India. These included cow vigilantism — assaults on non-Hindus for allegedly slaughtering cows or trading in beef.
Most Hindus, who account for about 80 per cent of India's 1.3 billion people, consider cows sacred.
Many states ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party have enacted laws or toughened old ones against slaughtering cows.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the report showed religious freedom and the rights of religious minorities were under threat around the world.
“For example, in India, the world's largest democracy and home to a great diversity of faiths, we've seen rising attacks on people and places of worship,” Blinken said.
Rashad Hussain, who leads the US State Department's efforts to monitor religious freedom around the world, said some Indian officials were “ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship”.
India's foreign ministry said the country values religious freedom and human rights, and that it had noted the “ill-informed comments by senior US officials”.
“It is unfortunate that vote bank politics is being practiced in international relations,” ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a statement.
He also said Indian officials have regularly highlighted “racially and ethnically motivated attacks, hate crimes and gun violence” in the United States.
Disputes between religious communities in India over places of worship have flared ever since the country won independence from British rule in 1947, but they have become more common in recent years. Muslims make up around 13pc of India's population.