Representative image of Muslims praying inside a mosque in Ahmedabad, November 8, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Amit Dave

By The Wire Staff

New Delhi: A US government organisation that monitors international religious freedom has recommended that India be designated as a “country of particular concern” for the second consecutive year.

Unveiling the 2021 annual report, the chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Gayle Manchin, said that the past year had been “challenging for most nations trying to balance public health concerns alongside the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief”.

USCIRF recommended that the state department should designate 14 countries a “countries of particular concern (CPCs)” as their “their governments engage in or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations.”

“These include 10 that the State Department designated as CPCs in December 2020—Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan—as well as four others—India, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam,” said the press release.

The independent, US Congress-constituted federal body had also recommended that India be in the list of CPCs last year, but the state department did not accept the recommendation. The ministry of external Affairs had dismissed the USCIRF’s assessment, by highlighting the dissension from three commissioners in the 2020 annual report on the proposal about India.

“We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF Annual Report. Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels. It has not been able to carry its own Commissioners in its endeavour. We regard it as an organisation of particular concern and will treat it accordingly,” said MEA spokesperson on April 2020.

This time, only one USCIRF commissioner has dissented on the recommendation.

In its 2021 report, USCIRF said that religious freedom conditions in India “continued their negative trajectory”. “The government, led by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom,” said the report, particularly noting the passage of the “religiously discriminatory” Citizenship Amendment Act. The report indicated that there was seeming police complicity in the Delhi riots.

“At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, disinformation and hateful rhetoric—including from government officials—often targeted religious minorities, continuing familiar patterns,” it said.

Further, the report alleged that “government action including the acquittal of all individuals accused of demolishing the Babri Masjid mosque—as well as government inaction to address religious violence contributed to a culture of impunity for those promulgating hate and violence toward religious minorities”.

As mentioned earlier, only one USCIRF commissioner appended a dissenting note. Even Commissioner Johnnie Moore said while India is “diversity personified”, it also “does seem to be at crossroads”.

“Its democracy—still young and freewheeling—is creating through the ballot box difficult challenges for itself. The answer, of course, is for India’s institutions to draw upon their rich history to protect their values. India must always resist allowing political and intercommunal conflict to be exacerbated by religious tensions. India’s government and people have everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose from preserving social harmony and protecting the rights of everyone. India can. India must,” said Moore.

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