Indian officials expressed intense indignation over the 2015 report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), saying it reflected ignorance of India and its culture and called it “a conspiracy to tarnish the image of the country.”
The report placed India on the “Tier 2” list of countries, where religious freedom violations “engaged in or tolerated by the government” are serious and are “characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious’ standard.”
India has been ensconced in Tier 2 for the past six years, and the situation shows little probability of improvement. The Commission has found incidents of religiously-motivated and communal violence to “have increased for three consecutive years.”
According to the report, Christian communities across denominations “report an increase of harassment and violence in the last year, including physical violence, arson, desecration of churches and Bibles, and disruption of religious services.”
Members of the Indian government strenuously disagree.
“The report is nothing but a conspiracy to tarnish the image of the country,” said Minister of State for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. “For the first time a government has worked to build confidence among minorities and give them social and financial security by empowering them, instead of politically exploiting them. The ground reality is that minorities are not just safer but happier now,” he said.
Naqvi said that minorities in India “know they are safe and so are their religious rights under this government.” A report like this, he said, “based on stereotypical narratives or isolated, will not dent their confidence in us.”
According to the USCIRF report, since the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, religious minority communities have been subject to “numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups,” such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).
For several years, Christians and other minorities have reported “more frequent harassment and violence, particularly in states with anti-conversion laws,” the report said. Religious minority communities also accuse the RSS, VHP and other Hindu-nationalist groups of “intolerance, discrimination, and violence against them.”
The report also expressed concern over official commitment to religious freedom, noting that Christians often “cite police bias in failing to investigate sufficiently and arrest perpetrators of violence.” Moreover, religious minority communities voice concern that high-ranking members of the ruling party (BJP) “protect or provide support to these groups.”
“The perpetrators are often individuals and groups associated with the RSS and VHP and operate with near impunity,” the report said.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup chalked the USCIRF report up to ignorance, saying that it “appears to be based on limited understanding of India, its constitution and its society,” adding that we take “no cognizance” of this report.
Paradoxically, the Indian government has a history of denying visas to members of this very religious freedom Commission, reportedly for fear that their visit to Indian soil would reveal further religious liberty violations.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome