India rubbishes the report.
By Sreekanth A. Nair
In a serious blow to the Narendra Modi government, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that religious tolerance deteriorated in India in 2015.
“In 2015, religious tolerance deteriorated and religious freedom violations increased in India,” USCIRF said in its annual religious freedom report.
The report was published ahead of Narendra Modi’s visit to the US. The report alleged that minority communities experienced harassment and violence across the country in 2015.
“Minority communities, especially Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups,” the report said.
Accusing the ruling BJP for communal violence, the report noted: “Members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tacitly supported these groups and used religiously-divisive language to further inflame tensions. These issues, combined with longstanding problems of police bias and judicial inadequacies, have created a pervasive climate of impunity, where religious minority communities feel increasingly insecure, with no recourse when religiously-motivated crimes occur. In the last year, “higher caste” individuals and local political leaders also prevented Hindus considered part of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Dalits) from entering religious temples.”
USCIRF criticized both central and state governments for their decisions that prevented religious freedom in many ways.
“The national government or state governments applied several laws to restrict religious conversion, cow slaughter, and foreign funding of NGOs. Moreover, an Indian constitutional provision deeming Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains to be Hindus contradicts international standards of freedom of religion or belief,” it noted.
Taking note of the ban on cow slaughter, USCIRF said, “article 48 of the Indian constitution and most Indian states (24 out of 29, as of 2015) significantly restrict or ban cow slaughter, which is required for Muslims during Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice). The application of these provisions also economically marginalises Muslims and Dalits (who adhere to various religious faiths); many members of these communities work in the beef industry, including slaughter for consumption, hauling items, and producing leather goods.”
Considering all the situations, USCIRF again placed India on Tier 2, where it has been since 2009. USCIRF noted that India is on a negative trajectory in terms of religious freedom. USCIRF will continue to monitor the situation closely during the year ahead to determine if India should be recommended to the U.S. State Department for designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.
It suggested that the government should rebuke officials and religious leaders who make comments that trigger communal tension.
The members of USCIRF were denied a visa to visit India earlier this year as was done in 2001 and 2009.
Responding to the report, Spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs, Vikas Swarup, said, “Our attention has been drawn to the recent report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which once again fails to show proper understanding of India, its constitution, and its society.
“India is a vibrant pluralistic society founded on strong democratic principles. The Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens including the right to freedom of religion. The government does not see the locus standi of a foreign entity like USCIRF to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights. We take no cognizance of their report,” he added.
India has witnessed several instances triggering communal tension during the two-year governance under Modi. An incident in Uttar Pradesh where a Muslim man was lynched by a mob for consuming beef had led to widespread discussion on religious freedom.
The provocative comments made by political and community leaders targeting minority groups have created headache to the BJP. Modi was also criticized for not raising his voice or not doing so quickly enough against sectarian comments.