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May 9, 2020

India in shock over US religious freedom report

National

May 9, 2020

A powerful American faith rights watchdog has called for India, which claims to be a multi-religious democracy, to be globally blacklisted over concerning major breaches of religious freedoms, particularly for Muslims, recommending “targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious rights.” The commission called on the Trump administration to impose sanctions on "Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom," given its treatment of religious minorities, including Christians as well as Muslims, exposing the claims by India as an adherent to global norms of rule of law. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) vice chairperson Nadine Maenza, appointed by President Trump, told a press conference that the deterioration of religious freedoms in India was "perhaps the steepest and most alarming" of all the negative developments identified around the world, harsh words indeed.

The commission accused the ruling BJP of having "allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity and also engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence."

New Delhi, as expected, angrily rejected the commission's conclusions. An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesperson claimed, "[The commission's] biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion its misrepresentation has reached new levels." On the commission's recommendation that India be designated a "country of particular concern," the spokesperson said the Indian government would now regard the commission as "an organization of particular concern and will treat it accordingly." This statement mocked the organization and its stark findings.

It was for the first time since 2004, the commission recommended that the State Department designate India as a "country of particular concern," a status reserved for "the worst of the worst."

Following the report, the issue for India is no longer so simple. Its reputation worldwide as a secular country is now in tatters. Manoj Joshi of New Delhi-based think tank, the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), was quoted by a report as saying: “Such reports have value, but whether it will influence government policy, I doubt.

India has suffered huge reputational damage on this issue.” The BJP, while in blind hatred for Muslims, could continue with anti-minority policies but it has to pay a major price for it.

Under President Trump, the commission’s influence over any US executive action seems to be limited but if Democrats occupy the White House after November 2020, the situation may change.

During the President Trump’s recent visit to India, fanatic mobs attacked Muslim neighborhoods in Indian capital New Delhi, with police standing by or even directly participating in the gory violence. This shocking development was also highlighted in the USCIRF report. More than 60 people died in New Delhi due to the contentious CAA, the legislation termed divisive, discriminatory and against Muslims as well as the country’s secular constitution. Most of those killed were Muslims who were deliberately targeted and their properties and worship places burnt down. Indian journalists were also not spared by zealot mobs led by the CAA followers and RSS assailants.

But not a single temple in Indian capital was touched. The Indian home ministry was thought to be involved in the killing of Muslims, along with the New Delhi police. The real face of India, already a fractured and racist country, which has tried to hide the shortcomings of the society under the cover of a secular constitution, was out for everyone to see.

According to the CAA, six minorities from three neighboring countries are eligible to get citizenship of India if they have lived for six years in the country. These lists exclude Muslim immigrants who have entered the country the same way as other non-Muslim immigrants. It is the first time that India, a so-called secular country, has used religion as a legal basis for determining nationality. There has been little space for the minorities facing the wrath of the Hindu majority since 2014 when the terrorist RSS won the national polls through its political wing, the BJP.

About the bloodshed in New Delhi, an article in NYT has stated that India has suffered its worst sectarian bloodshed in years, in what many see as the inevitable result of Hindu extremism that has flourished under the govt of PM Modi.

His party has embraced a militant brand of Hindu nationalism and its leaders have openly vilified Indian Muslims. It said that two-thirds of more than 50 people who were killed in Delhi were Muslim and human rights activists were calling it an organized massacre. The article pointed out that what seems to be different now, observers contend, is how profoundly India’s law enforcement machinery has been politicized by BJP.

“Some judges have also seemed to be caught up – or pushed out – by a Hindu nationalist wave."

The report added the Muslim leaders see the violence as a state-sanctioned campaign to teach them a lesson. After years of staying quiet as Hindu lynch mobs killed Muslims with impunity and Modi’s government chipped away at their political power, India’s Muslim population awoke in December and poured into the streets, along with many other Indians, to protest the new immigration law.

The report is a blunt show of condemnation of India’s divisive new citizenship law, which the United Nations has called ‘fundamentally discriminatory’.

It is an eye-opener for the entire world and shows the fact that religious freedoms in India continue to deteriorate, something which has been going on for at least a decade now.