For two years in a row, the United Nations Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that India be put in a list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs). As the name of the Commission suggests, the countries were primarily evaluated on the degree of violations of religious freedoms.
The Annual Report of the USCIRF, published in April 2021 enlisted India as a CPC along with 13 other countries that include: China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and Vietnam.
Key concerns in the Report
The Citizenship Amendment Act was passed in 2020 to fast track citizenship of non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan who were residing in India resulted in nationwide protests that eventually led to state and nonstate violence towards Muslims.
Over 50 individuals died and 200 injured (mostly Muslims) in the 2020 Delhi Riots. The USCIRF report quoted the Delhi Minorities Commission stating that the violence was a planned attempt “to teach a certain community a lesson” when it had protested against a discriminatory law.
The report also highlighted the issue of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), where it says the 2019 implementation of NRC in Assam had showcased what devastating impacts such laws could have if they were implemented in other states.
“Love Jihad” laws
Another issue was the violence arising from the laws passed by states such as Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to prohibit inter-faith marriages. The report said that the inflammatory campaigns led by Hindu nationalists have resulted in suspicion, insinuations and violence towards interfaith interactions of any kind.
The report also makes note of India’s increased imposition of restrictions on Civil Society and nongovernmental organisations which had led to Amnesty International India’s withdrawal in October, 2020. Furthermore, it makes an allusion to the 2020 Tablighi Jamaat Markaz saying that disinformation and hateful rhetoric was targeted onto specific religious communities.
To deal with the issues, the Commission recommended that India should be designated a CPC status for its involvement in violations of religious freedoms under the International Religious Freedom Act.
Moreover, penalties such as freezing the assets or banning the entry into the US, etc. must be instituted against those individuals and entities who are responsible for severe abuse of religious freedoms.
The other recommendation was that the administration should take steps to promote interfaith dialogues via bilateral and multilateral agreements and forums like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The report also recommended that the US Congress should raise the concerns of religious freedom through hearings, letters, briefings and congressional delegations.
Despite the USCIRF’s standing, its recommendations are not binding and it rests on the administration to determine if it wishes to accept the recommendations.
As Johnnie Moore, a USCIRF commissioner who presented a dissenting view noted: being the world’s largest democratic country, India is at a crossroads. However, the government cannot shrug off responsibility by quoting its diversity or misuse it for creating vote banks. The vast diversity of peoples, cultures and religions is an obstacle as well as a blessing for India. We have to navigate through the difficulties, by ensuring that no one's rights are compromised and the social harmony is sustained.
This article has been written by Ruchira Sarma for The Paradigm.
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