Three US lawmakers express concern over religious freedom in India

Credit: Indian American Muslim Council

Urge India to stand by democratic values at panel organized by Indian American Muslim Council

Panelists at an International Religious Freedom summit, including three US lawmakers, have voiced concern over what they called Indian government’s promotion of “the widespread practice of religious discrimination, intolerance and violence.”

The panel discussion on “Religious Freedom in India: Challenges & Opportunities,” was organized earlier this week by Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that advocates for human rights, religious freedom and civil liberties in the US and India.

“I remain seriously concerned about the Indian government’s commitment to protecting the rights of minorities, including the 200 million Muslims in India,” Sen. Ed Markey was quoted as saying in an IAMC press release.

Read: Indian American Muslim Council asks Modi to stop persecution of Muslims (January 5, 2021)

“The government’s targeting of social and political activities and crackdown on free speech and their religiously motivated discrimination against minorities cannot be viewed in isolation as escalating nationalism threatens to undermine India’s longstanding oath to democratic values.

“I will continue to stand up for these principles in the United States Senate, and I will encourage India to do the same,” he added.

“India has long had an admirable commitment to pluralism. It is the world’s largest democracy, whose bonds with the American people continue to grow, but the United States is right to speak up and speak out when a fellow democracy and strategic partner fails to protect the rights of all their people,” Markey said.

US Rep. Marie Newman, according to the release, alleged, “In the last seven years, hundreds of Muslims just walking down the street have been attacked by vigilante mobs, they have been lynched. It is a travesty of justice, and I am horrified by it.”

Acts of violence are not only targeting religious minorities, but social and political activists, lawyers, journalists and students, she said.

The US Department of State in its 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom released by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “speaks at length about the persecution of India’s Muslims and Christians,” Newman said.

“There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism, and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice and speak about their religious beliefs,” she said citing the report.

“India’s equity and standing in the eyes of the world are severely damaged already. Freedom House has downgraded its rating for India’s democracy from being free to partly free.

Read: Indian American Muslim Council condemns acquittal of accused in two terror cases in India (April 23, 2018)

“That is heart breaking. Persecution of the entire sections of society especially, when backed by governments, is a recipe for a future filled with disaster. We must do better. We must pressure both our adversaries and our allies to support human rights around the world,” Newman said.

US Rep. Andy Levin, vice chair of House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, and nonproliferation, said, “The India of (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi today is not the India I fell in love with” when he first visited India in 1978 fresh out of high school.

Levin, according to the release, referred to a report released by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom describing attacks on religious freedom in India that occurred throughout 2020.

“From disinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic that targeted religious minorities, to attempts to ban interfaith marriages, to riots in Delhi where more than 50 people died and 200 were injured, most of them Muslims,” he said citing the report.

“All of these examples are deeply upsetting, but perhaps what is most alarming about this report to me is the fact that these attacks are not new.” Levin said. “They are part of a pattern we have seen becoming increasingly clear and prevalent under Prime Minister Modi.”

“Why would I be so critical and so publicly critical of a country that I love?” he asked. “The answer is it is because I love India that I am committed to ending these attacks on its people.

“It is because I am so passionate in my support for the vibrant democracy I came to know as a young man, that I want to see that democracy flourish for generations to come.”

Levin pledged to continue to work with the Biden Administration and his Democratic and Republican colleagues to determine how US policy can help bring an end to the alleged abuses in India today.

“And I will hold tight to the belief that India is a democracy and can and will be a democracy for all of its people, one that embraces the human rights and dignity of every single person.”

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