Tuesday, May 16, 2023
WASHINGTON: A month before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi jets off to the United States for a state visit, the Joe Biden-led administration has asked his government to denounce persistent religious violence in the country.
In its annual reports on religious freedom, the US State Department has listed several attacks against India's religious minorities including Muslims and Christians in the billion-plus nation led by Modi's Hindu nationalists.
Briefing reporters about the report's findings on customary condition of anonymity, a senior US official, spoke about India's "vast potential" expressing how he is "saddened" by the persistence of religious violence.
"Regarding these concerns, we're continuing to encourage the government to condemn violence and hold accountable (those) who engage in rhetoric that's dehumanizing towards religious minorities," the official said.
The official promised to speak "directly" with Indian officials and said: "We'll continue to work very closely with our civil society colleagues on the ground (and) with courageous journalists that are working every day to document some of these abuses."
The State Department report, based on direct research as well as accounts by media and advocacy groups, pointed to concerns about home demolitions against Muslims and public flogging by police of Muslims accused of injuring Hindus in the state of Gujarat.
New Delhi has long hit back at American criticism on religious freedom, particularly by the autonomous US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which earlier this month once again recommended that the State Department put India on a blacklist over its record.
The report also detailed the state of religious freedoms in Pakistan.
"Estimates of the number of forced or coerced conversions vary widely – from as few as five per year to as many as 500," the report mentioned, also citing an NGO Center for Social Justice, which quoted 124 cases of forced and coerced conversions of young women and girls in 2022. It also stated an "increase of 59% over the organisation’s count of 78 cases in the previous year."
Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on November 30, had redesignated Pakistan as a "Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) for "having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom and announced a waiver of the sanctions that accompany designation in the national interest of the United States," the report mentioned.
Later this year Secretary of State Antony Blinken will list "countries of particular concern" on religious freedom but it is virtually certain he will spare India, with which the United States has been building warmer relations for decades, partly as a bulwark against China.
Blinken, presenting the report, did not mention India as he voiced alarm by actions by authorities in China, Iran, Myanmar and Nicaragua.
"We defend the right to believe — or to not believe — not only because it's the right thing to do, but also because of the extraordinary good that people of faith can do in our societies and around the world," he said.