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India rejects US panel report on religious freedom

USICRF in its latest report has called on the State Department to categorize India as ‘a country of particular concern’
Indian Christians take part in a procession on Good Friday in the national capital Delhi in 2018

Indian Christians take part in a procession on Good Friday in the national capital Delhi in 2018. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)

Published: May 04, 2023 05:31 AM GMT
Updated: May 04, 2023 06:00 AM GMT

The Indian government termed as “biased and motivated” a US panel report that listed the South Asian nation among the worst offenders against religious freedom or belief last year.

The United States Commission on Independent Religious Freedom (USICRF) report, released on May 1, called on the State Department to categorize India as “a country of particular concern” for its “severe violations of religious freedom.”

“We reject such misrepresentation of facts which only serves to discredit the USCIRF itself,” Arindam Bagchi, the federal external affairs ministry spokesperson, said on May 2 and urged the US panel to develop a better understanding of India, its plurality, democratic ethos and constitutional mechanisms.

The USCIRF, a bipartisan government advisory body created by an Act of the Congress in 1998, in its latest annual report asked the US Congress to take up the issue of religious freedom in India through hearings, briefings, letters and Congressional delegations.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs has consistently rejected USCIRF reports and as Bagchi said the US panel “continues to regurgitate biased and motivated comments about India.”

Father Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit human rights activist told UCA News on May 3, that the report was “significant indeed” and welcomed its recommendations in the context of freedom of religion.

"The truth is there for all to see"

“It is common knowledge that freedom of religion is under attack in India and those who suffer most are the minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims,” he said.

Prakash said the report highlights several instances where religious freedom has been brutally attacked through the imposition of anti-conversion laws, attacks on Christians and their places of worship, the ban on wearing the hijab or headscarf by Muslim women, mob lynchings citing alleged cow slaughter, and the systematic targeting of human rights defenders who demand freedom of religion and belief.

“The Indian government will naturally deny all this, but the truth is there for all to see. It must realize that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to all world citizens and it cannot hide under the lame excuse of outside interference in its internal affairs,” Prakash said.

Allen Brooks, a spokesperson of the United Christian Forum North East India said that while India does have a constitution that guarantees religious freedom, there have been several incidents of religious discrimination and violence against minority religious groups, including Christians.

“The USCIRF report cites incidents such as the mob lynching of Muslims and violent attacks on Christians and their institutions including churches,” the Christian lay leader said while stressing the need to recognize the importance of religious freedom and protect the rights of citizens.

The USCIRF has over the years pointed out the ill-treating of religious minorities and even attempted to send officials to India on fact-finding missions, which were blocked by New Delhi.

Its latest report alleged that in 2022 religious freedom conditions in India continued to worsen despite the constitutional provisions underlining the secular principles.

The Indian government “has facilitated and supported national and state-level policies that undermine religious freedom for minority groups,” it said.

The USCIRF further called on the US Congress to raise religious freedom issues in the bilateral relationship and highlight concerns through hearings, briefings, letters, and congressional delegations.

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