The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has designated India as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) for the first time since 2004, declaring the government engages in or tolerates “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom.
“In 2019, religious freedom conditions in India experienced a drastic turn downward, with religious minorities under increasing assault,” USCIRF states in its 2020 report released this week.
“Following the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) re-election in May, the national government used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims,” it declares.
“Violence against Christians also increased, with at least 328 violent incidents, often under accusations of forced conversions,” the report found. “These attacks frequently targeted prayer services and led to the widespread shuttering or destruction of churches.”
The national and various state governments “allowed nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities to continue with impunity, and engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence against them,” the report states.
“Based on these developments, in this report USCIRF recommends CPC designation for India,” it reads.
The CPC designation, the Commission’s former “Watch List,” is the lowest rating a country can receive and indicates a series, ongoing abuse of religious liberty. The designation includes countries like Pakistan, North Korea, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
The Indian government denied the report’s findings, saying that its “biased and tendentious” criticisms of India are “not new,” but adding that “its misrepresentation has reached new levels.”
In its report, the USCIRF, an advisory body to the U.S. Congress, recommended that the U.S. government “impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States under human rights-related financial and visa authorities, citing specific religious freedom violations.”
Prior to its 2020 report, USCIRF had designated India as a Tier-2 country, meaning nations that “require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by governments.”