WASHINGTON: The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has expressed ‘extreme disappointment’ over the State Department’s continuous failure to designate India as a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)” and has called for a congressional hearing on the matter.

In a statement issued in Washington on Friday, the commission highlighted how India has repeatedly met the legal requirements for the designation that would increase pressure on New Delhi to treat its religious minorities properly.

Last month, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken slapped this designation on Burma, China, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan but spared India. The designation applies to a country that engages in or tolerates particularly severe violations of religious freedom, as India does.

Blinken also designated al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Houthis, ISIS-Sahel, ISIS-West Africa, al-Qa’ida affiliate Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin, and the Taliban as “Entities of Particular Concern.”

Demands congressional hearing on State Dept’s failure on the issue

USCIRF Chair Abraham Cooper and Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie said in a joint statement that there was no justification as to why the State Department should spare India despite its own reporting and statements on religious violations in the country.

The USCIRF called on the US Congress to convene a public hearing on the failure of the State Department to follow their recommendations.

“In India, in addition to perpetrating egregious religious freedom violations within its borders, the government has increased its transnational repression activities targeting religious minorities abroad and those advocating on their behalf,” stated Cooper and Davie.

The USCIRF said since the issuance of its 2023 annual report, it had consistently shared its recommendations about India with the State Department and Congress.

In early December 2023, USCIRF officials met Secretary Blinken to reiterate those recommendations, highlighting their publications on India’s state-level anti-conversion laws and curbs on religious freedom.

The top USCIRF officials said the commission “rejects the State Department’s decision to omit India’s designation”.

They said the commission has had ‘many meetings’ with the State Department to sound the alarm about the country, but not all of their recommendations had been followed. “We will not be deterred and will continue our role as a congressionally mandated watchdog to ensure the US government prioritises religious freedom as a key component of its foreign policy,” the two USCIRF officials said.

Early last month, Canada accused agents of the Indian government of involvement in the June killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen of Indian descent who was shot dead by masked gunmen outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia.

On Dec 11, FBI chief Christopher Wray visited New Delhi for talks on an alleged Indian plot hatched to kill a Sikh activist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York.

In its 2023 report, USCIRF observed that religious freedom conditions in India were taking a drastic turn downward, “with national and various state governments tolerating widespread harassment and violence against religious minorities,” particularly Muslims.

The report noted that the BJP-led government had enacted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which provides a fast track to Indian citizenship only for non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan already residing in India. “This potentially exposes millions of Muslims to detention, deportation, and statelessness when the government completes its planned nationwide National Register of Citizens,” the commission warned.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2024

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