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The USCIRF has no locus standi to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens’ rights, said MEA spokesman Vikas Swarup. Photo: Hindustan Times
The USCIRF has no locus standi to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens’ rights, said MEA spokesman Vikas Swarup. Photo: Hindustan Times

Govt rejects US watchdog’s claim on rising intolerance

The USCIRF report says religious freedom was on a 'negative trajectory' in 2015, with 'freedom violations on the rise'

New Delhi: India on Tuesday rejected a report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) criticizing the state of religious freedom in the country, with the foreign ministry describing the report as failing to understand India, its Constitution and society.

The report, released overnight on Monday, said religious freedom in India was on a “negative trajectory" in 2015, with religious tolerance “deteriorating" and freedom violations “increasing".

In its response, the ministry of external affairs said that the Indian government did not take “cognizance" of the report.

“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. Government does not see the locus standi of a foreign entity like USCIRF to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights," ministry of external affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup said in a statement.

In its annual report, the US Congress-mandated USCIRF asked the Indian government to publicly rebuke officials and religious leaders who make derogatory statements about religious communities. “In 2015, religious tolerance deteriorated and religious freedom violations increased in India," it said.

Among the recent so-called cases of religious intolerance in India was the alleged lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri area last year after rumours spread about the family storing and consuming beef.

While the US government has consistently criticized religious freedom in India, the two countries have not let that impinge on plans to build closer strategic ties. According to news reports, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to travel to the US in June to address the Congress.

USCIRF, however, urged the US to integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateral contacts with India, including the framework of future strategic dialogues, at both the federal and provincial level.

In its report, USCIRF said it would continue to monitor the situation closely during the year to determine if India should be recommended to the state department for designation as a “country of particular concern".

“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.

It further said that members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party tacitly supported these groups and used religiously divisive language to 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," said USCIRF, which has retained India in its Tier-2 list of countries on religious freedom.

India has been placed in Tier-2 since 2009. Other countries listed in Tier-2 are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, Indonesia, Kazakhastan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia and Turkey.

USCIRF has recommended to the state department to designate eight countries—Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan and Vietnam—as countries of particular concern.

USCIRF recommendations are not binding on the state department, which has so far put nine countries in this list—Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

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