WASHINGTON: The United States wants India to condemn persistent religious violence, a senior official said on Monday, one month before a state visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The State Department on Monday released an annual report on religious freedom which listed attacks against religious minorities including Muslims and Christians in the billion-plus nation led by Modi’s Hindu nationalists.
A senior US official, briefing reporters on the report on customary condition of anonymity, spoke of India’s “vast potential” and said he was “saddened” by the persistence of religious violence.
“Regarding these concerns, we’re continuing to encourage the government to condemn violence and hold accountable (those) who engage in rhetoric that’s dehumanising towards religious minorities,” the official said.
The official promised to speak “directly” with Indian officials and said: “We’ll continue to work very closely with our civil society colleagues on the ground (and) with courageous journalists that are working every day to document some of these abuses.” The State Department report, based on direct research as well as accounts by media and advocacy groups, pointed to concerns about home demolitions against Muslims and public flogging by police of Muslims accused of injuring Hindus in the state of Gujarat.
New Delhi has long hit back at American criticism on religious freedom, particularly by the autonomous US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which earlier this month once again recommended that the State Department put India on a blacklist over its record.
Later this year Secretary of State Antony Blinken will list “countries of particular concern” on religious freedom but it is virtually certain he will spare India, with which the United States has been building warmer relations for decades, partly as a bulwark against China.
Blinken, presenting the report, did not mention India as he voiced alarm by actions by authorities in China, Iran, Myanmar and Nicaragua.
“We defend the right to believe — or to not believe — not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because of the extraordinary good that people of faith can do in our societies and around the world,” he said.
On Sunday, British publisher Daily Mail revealed that elements close to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are suspected of having incited British Hindus to confront Muslim youths in last summer’s explosive riots in Leicester.
According to the report, a UK security source said there was evidence of BJP-linked activists using closed WhatsApp groups to encourage Hindu protesters to take to the streets, however, the source warned that this was only the ‘most egregious’ example of Indian Hindu nationalists using private social media posts to interfere in the Britain.
Violent clashes broke out between Hindu and Muslim youths after an India-Pakistan cricket match in late August, grabbed international media attention.
The security source said the alleged interference appeared to be part of Modi’s desire to pose as the leader of Hindus across the world.
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2023
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