In its 2023 annual report released on Monday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) again called on the US Department of State to designate India as a “country of particular concern (CPC)”.
For the fourth year in a row, USCIRF recommended that India’s government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, be added to a religious freedom blacklist, saying that conditions in the country for religious minorities “continued to worsen” throughout 2022.
USCIRF report says that, “In 2022, religious freedom conditions in India continued to worsen. Throughout the year, the Indian government at the national, state, and local levels promoted and enforced religiously discriminatory policies, including laws targeting religious conversion, interfaith relationships, the wearing of hijabs, and cow slaughter, which negatively impact Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and Adivasis (indigenous peoples and scheduled tribes).
The national government also continued to suppress critical voices—particularly religious minorities and those advocating on their behalf—including through surveillance, harassment, demolition of property, and detention under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and by targeting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).”
“The continued enforcement of discriminatory laws facilitated a culture of impunity for widespread campaigns of threats and violence by mobs and vigilante groups. In March, for example, Karnataka’s state government issued a hijab ban in public schools. Despite widespread protests and instances of violence, state high court judges upheld the ban, agreeing with the government’s argument that the hijab is not essential to practicing Islam.”
“India’s state governments also continued to pass and enforce anti-conversion laws, currently existing in 12 states, including legislation in multiple states aimed to prohibit and criminalize interfaith marriages. Public notice requirements for interfaith marriages imposed in 10 states have, at times, resulted in violent reprisals against couples. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) committed to enforcing harsher penalties for interfaith marriages in its 2022 election manifesto for Uttar Pradesh.”, the report noted.
The report referred to the violent attacks being perpetrated throughout India in the name of cow protection.
“Examples of violence against Christians, Muslims, and Dalits around suspicions of cow smuggling were reported in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi. In August, BJP member Gyan Dev Ahuja was recorded publicly calling for his listeners to “kill anyone involved in cow slaughter.”, the report said.
The report also observed that throughout the year, destruction of property, including places of worship in predominantly Muslim and Christian neighbourhoods, continued.
Advocacy group the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) tweeted that the latest USCIRF report“reaffirms what IAMC has been saying for years: that India’s government, under Prime Minister (Modi) has continued to systematically violate the religious freedom of minority communities, particularly Muslims and Christians”.
“CPC is a designation reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.”, IAMC said in a statement following the release of the USCIRF 2023 report.
“This decision reaffirms what IAMC has been saying for years: that India’s government, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has continued to systematically violate the religious freedom of minority communities, particularly Muslims and Christians,” said Rasheed Ahmed, IAMC Executive Director. “It is high time that the State Department acts on USCIRF’s recommendation and holds India accountable as the ground situation becomes increasingly more violent and dangerous for its religious minorities. We particularly welcome that the report highlights the systematic and appalling harassment of Journalists.”
The religious freedom watchdog noted the administration of US President Joe Biden “failed to designate India” as a “country of particular concern” after it made the recommendation in previous years.
“The United States and India continued to maintain strong bilateral ties around economic trade and technology. Trade reached $120 billion in 2022, making the United States India’s largest trading partner,” the report said, adding, “President Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted on multiple occasions, including the G20 and G7 Summits and the Quad Leaders Summit,” it added, the latter referring to the informal grouping of the US, India, Japan and Australia.
The 2023 annual report recommends that the U.S. State Department re-designate 12 countries currently labeled as CPCs (China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan), and designate five additional countries (Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, Syria, and Vietnam).
The panel only offers recommendations and has no ability to set policy.