US expresses concern about violence and discrimination against religious minorities in India

WASHINGTON: Expressing concern over the alleged killings, assaults, discrimination and actions against religious and ethnic minorities in India, the US Government in an official report to Congress on Wednesday said that American officials discussed with their Indian counterparts issues related to the CAA, difficulties faced by faith-based NGOs and allegations that Muslims spread the Covid-19 virus.

Mandated by the US Congress, the ‘2020 Report on International Religious Freedom’ that documents major instances of the violation of religious freedom across the world was released by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday.

India has previously rejected the US religious freedom reports, saying it sees no locus standi for a foreign government to pronounce on the state of its citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.
The India section of the report says that the US officials, including those from the Embassy, during the meetings with their Indian counterparts emphasised the importance the United States attaches to religious freedom and the responsibility of democracies to ensure the rights of religious minorities.

“Among the issues discussed were the Muslim community’s concerns about the CAA, difficulties faced by faith-based NGOs in the wake of amendments to the FCRA, and allegations that Muslims spread the Covid-19 virus,” it said.

“There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism, and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice and speak about their religious beliefs,” said the State Department report.

It said that the Indian Constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion; mandates a secular state; requires the state to treat all religions impartially; and prohibits discrimination based on religion.

It also states that citizens must practice their faith in a way that does not adversely affect public order, morality, or health. Ten of the 28 states have laws restricting religious conversions, it said.

“In February, continued protests related to the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which excludes Muslims from expedited naturalization provisions granted to migrants of other faiths, became violent in New Delhi after counter protestors attacked demonstrators. According to reports, religiously motivated attacks resulted in the deaths of 53 persons, most of whom were Muslim, and two security officials,” it said.

According to the CAA, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 following religious persecution there will get Indian citizenship.

The Indian government has been emphasising that the new law will not deny any citizenship rights, but has been brought to protect the oppressed minorities of neighbouring countries and give them citizenship.

According to the State Department, there were reports by NGOs that the government sometimes failed to prevent or stop attacks on religious minorities. “Political party leaders made inflammatory public remarks or social media posts about religious minorities,” it alleged.
“Attacks on members of religious minority communities, based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef, occurred throughout the year. Such “cow vigilantism” included killings, assaults, and intimidation,” said the report.

The State Department said that NGOs, including faith-based organisations, criticised amendments passed in September to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) as constraining civil society by reducing the amount of foreign funding that NGOs, including religious organisations, could use for administrative purposes and adding onerous oversight and certification requirements.

“The government said the law strengthened oversight and accountability of foreign NGO funding in the country,” said the report.

In February, the government cancelled the FCRA licenses of five Christian-linked NGOs, cutting off their foreign funding.

In September, the NGO Amnesty International India ceased operations in the country after the government froze its bank accounts in response to a FCRA investigation that the NGO says was motivated by its critical reporting against the government.

India’s home ministry has said that Amnesty International had received permission under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) only once and that too 20 years ago (on December 19, 2000). Since then, it said, the organisation, despite its repeated applications, has been denied FCRA approval by successive governments since as per law it is not eligible for it.

The report also said that in September, a special Central Bureau of Investigation court acquitted all 32 persons, including former BJP politicians, charged in the case of the 1992 demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. The CBI court ruled that the demolition of the mosque was a “spontaneous act” and there was no evidence of conspiracy. PTI LKJ ZH AKJ
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