The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a US Congress-appointed panel, has hauled the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi over coals over its alleged sins of omission in commission with regard to minorities.
In its 2015 annual report, the recently released USCIRF report has targeted the Modi government and said that ever since the Modi-led government assumed office on May 26, 2014, minorities in India feel unsafe owing to right wing Hindu nationalist campaigns like “Ghar Wapsi” (home return) and derogatory remarks made by religious leaders in the country.
India has rejected the report saying that the makers of the report seem to have little understanding of India, its Constitution and its society.
Before we set about to analyze the veracity of the report, here are a few relevant quotes from the report.
l Incidents of religiously-motivated and communal violence reportedly have increased for three consecutive years.
l Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and religious leaders, including from the Muslim, Christian, and Sikh communities, attributed the initial increase to religiously-divisive campaigning in advance of the country’s 2014 general election.
l Since the election, religious minority communities have been subject to derogatory comments by politicians linked to the ruling BJP and numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).
l Christian NGOs and leaders report that their community is particularly at risk in states that have adopted “Freedom of Religion Act(s)”, commonly referred to as anti-conversion laws.
On the basis of the above, USCIRF has again placed India on its Tier 2 list of countries, where it has been since 2009. Significantly, USCIRF has praised Modi for his remarks at an event honoring Indian Catholic saints in mid-February in support of religious freedom and called it a “positive development.” Incidentally it was on the basis of a recommendation from USCIRF that the State department had revoked Modi’s visa in 2005 for his alleged complicity in the 2002 Gujarat riots. The report itself has noted the uncharitable fact that “Prime Minister Modi remains the only person known to have been denied a visa based on this provision.”
However, USCRIF report exposes its own ignorance in many ways. Understandably, the Indian government was quick to lash out against the report and trashed it completely. Foreign Office spokesperson Vikas Swarup remarked thus: “Our attention has been drawn to a report of the USCIRF, which has passed judgment on religious freedom in India. It appears to be based on limited understanding of India, its constitution and its society. We take no cognizance of this report.”
The report is factually wrong on each of the major minorities like Muslims, Christians and Sikhs. Here is how and why.
On Christians, the report accuses India of adopting anti-Hindu modus operandi and talked about churches being vandalized in India. But the fact is that the number of temples vandalized in India in the relevant period is far more (267) than the number of churches vandalized (6). The report says that in September 2014, Adventists were forcibly converted to Hinduism. The fact is that an Adventist Church investigation denied forcible conversion story.
On Muslims, the report says that restrictions on cow slaughter violate religious freedom of Muslims. Cow slaughter is required Muslims during Eid-Al-Adha.
The Indian government stance is that the Islamic tradition is to sacrifice goat or sheep on Eid Al-Adha, not cows. Indian government has declared Eid-al-Adha as a public holiday. India has eight Islamic public holidays.
On Sikhs, the report says: “Sikhs are harassed and pressured to reject religious practices… such as dress, unshorn hair and carrying of religious terms.” It also says that the Sikhs are denied access to education and employment preference that are available to scheduled caste Hindus.
But the fact is that since 1993, Sikhs have same access to educational and employ preference that are available to religious minority. Only Hindus are denied access.
The Indian Constitution has safeguarded rights of minorities and stipulated that the government cannot confiscate places of worship and schools owned by minorities. The government’s stand is that while it has confiscated hundreds of Hindu temples it has not confiscated even a single place of worship owned by minorities. The government also says that government-aided minority schools have operational independence and 95 per cent of these schools get grant-in-aid.
In conclusion, USCIRF report is hypocritical aimed at appeasing bigots at home. Its annual reports are meant to rap those countries, which are otherwise difficult to be handled diplomatically.