India has rejected a US government panel report that claims direct link between the 2014 general elections and the spike in attacks on religious minorities in the country.
The report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) says that since the 2014 elections, religious minority communities in India have been “subject to derogatory comments by politicians linked to the ruling BJP” as well as “numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups, such as RSS and VHP”.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said: “Our attention has been drawn to a report of the USCIRF which has passed judgement on religious freedom in India. The report appears to be based on limited understanding of India, its constitution and its society.”
“We take no cognizance of the report,” he said.
Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said: “People, who are not fully aware of India, giving certificates on religious freedom is wrong.”
Biju Janata Dal MP Baijayant Panda tweeted: “Not that we shouldn’t introspect on religious freedom in India, but a US report on it while #BaltimoreRiots is a bit rich. Glass-houses/pots/kettles.”
He was referring to the widespread protests in the US over the death in police custody of a black man in Baltimore – the latest in a string of deaths of unarmed black men and teens in shootings incidents or assault by police.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi however tweeted: “How can Obama’s praise for Modi be accepted and flaunted while rejecting US Commission’s findings on religious intolerance u/ Modi’s watch!”
The USCIRF, an “independent, bipartisan US federal government commission” whose members are appointed by the president and the Congressional leadership of both political parties, released its 2015 Annual Report on Thursday.
The report, which devoted five pages to India, has recommended that India along with 10 countries be placed in the Tier 2 Countries of Particular Concern standard. India is along with Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, and Turkey in the Tier 2.
“Countries of Particular Concern” are defined as those where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are tolerated or perpetrated – Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, and Vietnam.
The report, which devotes a section to “Hindu Nationalist Groups and Forced Conversions”, mentions the proposed “Ghar Wapsi” plan of RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat on Christmas Day last year as well as the other reported incidents of “ghar wapsi” (re-conversions) by Hindu rightwing groups.
On the anti-conversion law passed by some states, it claims the law is “one-sided” and is “only concerned about conversions away from Hinduism but not towards Hinduism”.
The report also notes US President Barack Obama’s comments on religious freedom in India, including during his visit to India in January and during the US National Prayer Breakfast address in February.
Obama in his town hall event in New Delhi had “underscored the importance of religious freedom to India’s success”, urging the country to not be “splintered along the lines of religious faith”.
The report also noted that Modi in this February, at an event honouring Catholic saints, had stated publicly for the first time, that his government “will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith” and added that “the statement is notable given longstanding allegations that, as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, Mr. Modi was complicit in anti-Muslim riots in that state”. It also said that the US had revoked his tourist visa in light of these allegations.
The report makes six recommendations to the US government, including to “integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateral contacts with India”, including the future Strategic Dialogues, at both the federal and provincial level”.
It also recommends to “Increase the US 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”.
Another is to “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”.
It also seeks urging the Indian government “to publicly rebuke government officials and religious leaders that make derogatory statements about religious communities”.