A firefighter vehicle is parked near burnt-out premises following clashes between people supporting and opposing a contentious amendment to India's citizenship law in New Delhi on Feb. 26. (Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP)
The influential US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has downgraded India to its lowest category of "countries of particular concern" in terms of freedom to exercise a religious faith."India took a sharp downward turn in 2019," the commission said in its 2020 report released online on April 28.The national government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi "used its strengthened parliamentary majority [after the 2019 general election] to institute national-level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims," it said.India's government, led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), criticized the "biased and tendentious comments" in the report.Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson for India's external affairs minister, said the USCIRF is "an organization of particular concern and we will treat it accordingly."
Ranked with worst performersIndia, which boasts about its strong parliamentary democratic roots, has been ranked alongside 13 religiously intolerant countries including its belligerent neighbors Pakistan and China. This is the first time since 2004 that India has been placed in this category.While categorizing India as a Tier 2 country in its 2019 report, the USCIRF noted an "overall deterioration of religious freedom conditions in 2018."Parliamentary elections in April-May 2019 returned Modi's BJP to power with an enhanced mandate.Categorizing India among "countries of particular concern" this year lists India alongside communist countries such as China and North Korea, notorious for violations of religious freedom.The commission said India was categorized this way because "national and various state governments also allowed nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities to continue with impunity, and engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence against them."However, some members of the commission wrote dissenting notes against clubbing India with North Korea and China."India does not belong to the same category as authoritarian regimes like China and North Korea. India is the largest democratic nation in the world, where the CAA has been challenged openly by the opposition Congress party and lawmakers, civil society and various groups," wrote commissioner Tenzin Dorjee.Commissioner Gary Bauer wrote that he was "confident that India will reject any authoritarian temptation and stand with the United States and other free nations in defence of liberty, including religious liberty."
The other 13 countries with India in the adverse grouping are Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam.India's national capital Delhi witnessed Hindu-Muslim riots from Feb. 23-27 this year, coinciding with US President Donald Trump's visit. Mobs shouted slogans such as "Hinduon ka Hindustan" (India only belongs to Hindus).