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Religious Tolerance Is Deteriorating In India: Report





In a fairly damning report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (“USCIRF“), a government body that monitors international religious freedom, warned that India was on a negative trajectory in terms of religious freedom.

The USCIRF made the observation in its annual report and said that it would closely monitor the situation in the year ahead to determine if India should be recommended to the U.S. State Department for designation as a “country of particular concern,” under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.

The report covers the period from February 1, 2015 to February 29, 2016 and addresses issues in 31 countries. [India has been under the rule of Modi and his BJP / RSS / Hindutva government during this period.]

The Indian government sharply rebutted the report and said, ”we take no cognizance of the report.”

“The US Commission on International Religious Freedom once again fails to show proper understanding of India, its constitution and its society,” India’s foreign ministry reportedly said in a statement. ”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 statement said, adding that 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.”

In key findings, the report said: “In 2015, religious tolerance deteriorated and religious freedom violations increased in India. Minority communities, especially Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups.

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.”

Firmly pinning the blame for the deterioration of religious tolerance on the Narendra Modi government, the report said: “Since the BJP assumed power, religious minority communities have been subject to derogatory comments by BJP politicians and numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by affiliated Hindu nationalist groups, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Sangh Parivar, and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).”

The report also mentioned Modi’s close confidant and party president Amit Shah, pinning the call for anti-conversion laws on Shah and other party leaders.

In March, when a USCIRF delegation tried to visit India, it was denied a visa.

Keeping in mind the strategic relationship between India and the U.S. the USCIRF has some suggestions for the U.S. government to improve matters:

*    The U.S. government should, it said, integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateral contacts with India, at both the federal and provincial level

*    It should increase the U.S. Embassy’s attention to issues of religious freedom and related human rights, including through visits by the Ambassador and other officials to areas where communal and religiously-motivated violence has occurred or is likely to occur and meetings with religious communities, local governmental leaders, and police

*    Press the Indian government to allow USCIRF to visit the country, and urge the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom or Belief to visit India

*    Urge India to boost training on human rights and religious freedom standards and practices for the police and judiciary, particularly in states and areas with a history or likelihood of religious and communal violence

*    Urge the central Indian government to press states that have adopted anti-conversion laws to repeal or amend them to conform with internationally-recognized human rights standards; make clear U.S. opposition to laws that restrict freedom of thought and association

*    Urge the Indian government to publicly rebuke government officials and religious leaders that make derogatory statements about religious communities.

The report makes some very serious findings and raises critical issues, with a list of suggestions on how the U.S. government should go about improving matters. The Indian government should bear in mind that religious intolerance, and resulting unrest, is a recipe for disaster when it comes to inviting foreign investments.

[Courtesy: Forbes. Edited for]
May 5, 2016

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