US religious freedom report; future of Muslims in India

While the report calls for the imposition of sanctions and freezing of assets — these recommendations aren’t binding. India lies at the centre of America’s Indo Pacific strategy, as a major ally with converging interests for containment of China. In such a scenario, will conditions change for the minorities in India?

religious freedom India

On 28th April, the USCIRF (US Commission on International Religious Freedom) annual report on religious freedom was released. Interestingly, despite India’s close ties with the U.S, the report wasn’t biased towards India, neither did it seek to obscure its fascist agenda. It rather internationalized India’s discriminatory, undemocratic, harsh and brutal policy towards the Muslims.

According to the report for the very first time since 2004, India has been recommended to be placed on the “Particular Concern” list of the US, based on religious issues. But what does that mean for India? What would be the future of the Muslims under India’s belligerent, fascist and brutish approach?

India: Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)

The controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the Indian Parliament, excluded the Muslims from acquiring Indian citizenship. Whereas the Article 14 of the Indian constitution explicitly mentions that there shall be no discrimination. With this move, the ‘façade’ of being the world’s largest democracy was struck a severe blow.

Read more: Religious freedom a myth in “secular” India: RSS & Jesus Statue

BJP’s RSS backed fascist agenda is to marginalize and altogether eliminate the Muslims and form a “Hindu state” in contravention to the secular constitution. It has not only served to fuel xenophobia and hate crimes against the Muslims, but also provoked a heated wave of protests nationwide.

In the aftermath of the passage of the bill, India has fastened up its pace towards a more “authoritarian styled government”- as the BJP led government used several repressive measures to suppress the uprisings. It suspended mobile communications — and Internet in Uttar Pradesh where Muslims were in majority. The police cracked down on students from the Jamia Millia Islamia University.

The Delhi riots broke out, whereby the Hindu mobs targeted and burned Muslim properties to ashes. They took the lives of around 53 people. According to the Indian Civil Liberties Union, more than 5,000 people have been detained and more than 1,400 arrested in the state since the CAA was passed.

India becomes ‘Country of Particular Concern’

Now, this is the first time since the aftermath of Gujrat riots that USCIRF has recommended India as a “Country of Particular Concern”. That means the government of India was engaged in and tolerated systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.

Moreover, the report has raised alarm over India’s persistent encroachments on provisions of religious liberty. The report states that: “Perhaps the steepest, and most alarming, deterioration in religious freedom conditions was in India, the largest democracy in the world.” The report laments, there are fears that this law is part of a greater effort meant for the marginalisation of Muslims that may lead to their widespread disenfranchisement. Moreover, they would have to tolerate the draconian consequences of “statelessness, deportation, or prolonged detention”.

Read more: US ‘Religious Freedom’ watchdog puts India under lens?

The BJP’s Hindutva rhetoric seeks to marginalize, discriminate, exclude and altogether eliminate the Muslim community and establish a pure “Hindu State”. While the CAA has struck a blow to India’s secular constitution, it has also heightened rabid Hindu nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiments. It is aiming at creating a massive group of stateless and disenfranchised people. Its implications have already come out to be extremely harsh for the Muslims. As, Justice Richard Goldstone, the Honorary President of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute has aptly remarked:

“The CAA is a serious blemish on the hitherto proud record of democracy in India”.

India’s Hindutva based fascist measures, the subsequent wave of protests and the government’s stringent steps to repress them have paved the way for few probable outcomes.

What to expect?

First, India is taking strides towards the path of authoritarian tendencies as evident from the government’s high-handed repressive approach to combat the dissent. Democracy is in peril. Unless and until transparency from the central government’s side isn’t ensured by engaging all the relevant stakeholders through an open public discussion, the issue of the CAA seems far from being resolved at any time in the future.

Second, the Indian Muslims would continue to be the victims of harsh and violent attacks, as India has strengthened its crackdown on the Muslims making “Corona Jihad” as a pretext for it. The COVID-19 outbreak has already been blamed on the Muslims in India, and hence there has been a surge in hate crimes. Moreover, the recent $16 million arms deal struck with Israel, amid the corona crisis is a depiction of India’s underlying priorities and intentions.

Read more: Indian Muslims to face more violence, experts warn US

This ‘arms over masks’ preference would supply the Indian military with 16,479 Negev light machine guns. Is this move meant to further tighten the grip over the already hard-hit Muslims? Would BJP continue its aggressive policy of demonising the Muslims even during the pandemic, rather than focusing on its failing healthcare, economic systems and inefficiency? The current situation paints a dismal picture for the future of the Indian Muslims. They have become the victims of ‘triple burden’ – the pandemic, economic losses, and above all in a run for their lives from the bloodthirsty Hindus!

Third, the report’s comments on India, has led to the ‘internationalisation’ of the Indian brutalities, atrocities and exposed the facade of the so-called secularism and democracy. For the very first time, India’s approach of “extermination” of Muslims has been highlighted at the global platform.

For Pakistan, the importance of this dimension is two-fold: first, the report provides ample evidence for backing and strengthing Pakistan’s case of Kashmir, it has publicly exposed India’s belligerent, harsh, discriminatory rhetoric towards minorities, particularly Muslims. Second, Pakistan’s effective diplomatic efforts, voicing concerns over India’s discriminatory attacks on Muslims, exposing its fake allegations – has surely brought some success. It surely is a success of the effective diplomacy on behalf of Pakistan.

Fourth, there still needs to be seen in the long term, implications of this report on Indo-US relations. While the report calls for the imposition of sanctions, freezing of assets – yet these recommendations aren’t binding. India lies at the centre of America’s Indo Pacific strategy, as a major ally with converging interests for containment of China.

Read more: Blacklist India, demands US commision

Moreover, the bilateral trade between US-India is around $87.95 billion – making US the largest trading partner of India. In these circumstances, the Trump-led government is quite unlikely to act upon any of the recommendations. Without any pressure, India is most likely to continue with the xenophobic attitude, endangering the life of Muslims.

Fifth, the raging pandemic crisis may turn out to be a boon for Indian-America relations: with China in the spotlight, President Trump’s baseless allegations over the origin of the virus in Wuhan lab, China’s strides towards vaccine development – may push both the countries closer than ever for China’s containment. The boost to India-US relations would empower India to put the plight and sufferings of the Muslims at the backburner, and continue with its fascist ambitions.

The future of the Indian Muslims still seems quite uncertain in light of the current situation.

Dr. Huma Tariq is a Doctor by profession. She has worked in Ghurki Trust Teaching Hospital. Her interests include world politics, women empowerment, human rights. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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