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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

USCIRF recommends adding India to religious freedom blacklist for fourth year

Report suggests adding India to the blacklist due to "systematic, ongoing [and] egregious violations" of religious freedom.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended, for the fourth year in a row, that India’s government be added to a religious freedom blacklist. In its annual report, the independent panel called on the US Department of State to designate India as a “country of particular concern.” The label accuses a government of “systematic, ongoing [and] egregious violations” of religious freedom and opens the door to economic sanctions. The USCIRF has been making appeals for the designation since 2020, citing conditions in India for religious minorities that have “continued to worsen” throughout 2022.

Background Religious Diversity and Politics

India is a country with a rich cultural and religious diversity. It has a population of 1.4 billion, with about 14 percent being Muslim, about 2 percent Christian, and 1.7 percent Sikh. Nearly 80 percent of the country is Hindu. The Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been accused of promoting and enforcing religiously discriminatory policies. These policies negatively impact Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and Adivasis (indigenous peoples and scheduled tribes).

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The Report on India’s Religious Freedom

The USCIRF report highlights India’s promotion and enforcement of religiously discriminatory policies against minorities, as well as the suppression of critical voices advocating on their behalf. Despite repeated recommendations for India’s designation as a “country of particular concern,” it is unlikely that the State Department will adopt the commission’s position due to the growing ties between Washington and New Delhi aimed at countering China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

India’s Response to the Report

India has repeatedly denied the accusations made against it by the USCIRF, with the government stating that it values religious freedom and human rights. The country has a diverse population, with many different religions and cultures coexisting. However, the Modi government’s policies towards religious minorities have been heavily criticised, with many accusing the BJP of promoting a Hindu nationalist agenda.

The BJP has been accused of stoking communal tensions and enacting policies that discriminate against non-Hindu communities. The Citizenship Amendment Act, which was passed in 2019, has been criticised for being discriminatory against Muslims. The law provides a fast track to citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from neighbouring countries, while excluding Muslims.

Similarly, laws targeting cow slaughter and interfaith relationships have been criticised for being discriminatory towards Muslims and Dalits. Critics say that these laws are part of a broader agenda to marginalise non-Hindu communities and create a Hindu-majority nation.

The USCIRF report comes at a time when India is facing a number of challenges, including a surge in COVID-19 cases and a deteriorating economic situation. The report is likely to put further pressure on the Modi government, which has been accused of mishandling the pandemic and failing to address the economic crisis.

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The USCIRF’s continued recommendation for India’s designation as a “country of particular concern” highlights the concerning state of religious freedom in India, particularly for minority communities. While India’s government denies these accusations, it is important for international actors to hold India accountable and encourage the protection of religious freedom for all communities. The situation in India should serve as a reminder of the importance of promoting and protecting religious freedom around the world.