U.S. Religious Freedom Commission: Sanction India for Rise in ‘Mob Lynchings’

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends a meeting with US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the G20 Osaka Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is tolerating, or engaging in, the violent and “particularly severe” persecution of Muslim and Christian minorities in India, a bipartisan U.S. watchdog group reported this week, echoing several other assessments.

India’s violations of religious freedom are resulting in the death of Muslims as well as the destruction and shutting down of churches, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a federal entity, said in its latest annual report released Tuesday, which covers conditions in 2019.

“Perhaps the steepest, and most alarming, deterioration in religious freedom conditions was in India, the largest democracy in the world,” USCIRF Vice Chair Nadine Maenza proclaimed during the virtual rollout of the report:

“We are seeing impunity for violence by non-state actors committed against religious minorities,” USCIRF chair Tony Perkins added:

Maenza described India’s most “startling and disturbing” religious freedom violation as the Hindu-majority country’s passage of a citizenship amendment act that fast-tracks citizenship for new immigrants who belong to six religions, but excludes Muslims.

The act “potentially exposes millions of Muslims to detention, deportation, and statelessness when the government completes its plan for a nationwide, national register,” she added:

India has rejected the findings of the commission, established by the American Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on threats to religious freedom abroad and U.S. responses.

“We regard [USCIRF] as an organization of particular concern and will treat it accordingly,” Anurag Srivastava, the spokesman for India’s ministry of external affairs, declared this week without elaborating further, according to the Hindu.

In its annual report released Tuesday, USCIRF urged the State Department to sanction Indian government agencies and officials engaged in the oppression of minorities. The commission has no power to enforce its recommendations, but State is required to consider implementing them.

The report declared:

In 2019, religious freedom conditions in India experienced a drastic turn downward, with religious minorities under increasing assault. 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. The national government allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity, and also engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence.

Mob lynchings of persons suspected of cow slaughter or consuming beef continued, with most attacks occurring within BJP-ruled states. Lynch mobs often took on overtly Hindu nationalist tones. In June, in Jharkand, a mob attacked a Muslim, Tabrez Ansari, forcing him to chant “Jai Shri Ram (Hail Lord Ram)” as they beat him to death. Police often arrest those attacked for cow slaughter or conversion activities rather than the perpetrators. Violence against Christians also increased, with at least 328 violent incidents, often under accusations of forced conversions. These attacks frequently targeted prayer services and led to the widespread shuttering or destruction of churches.

Hindus honor the cow as representative of the divine. In August 2019, the BJP stripped India’s only Muslim-majority region, Jammu and Kashmir, “of its autonomy and imposed security measures, including restricting freedom of movement and assembly,” cutting access to the outside world, and arresting people, the commission noted.

The commission acknowledged that violations against minorities at the hands of Hindu extremists encouraged by Modi’s BJP have continued into this year, noting:

During 2019, discriminatory policies, inflammatory rhetoric, and tolerance for violence against minorities at the national, state, and local level increased the climate of fear among non-Hindu communities. After the reporting period, India continued on this negative trajectory. In February 2020, three days of violence erupted in Delhi with mobs attacking Muslim neighborhoods. There were reports of Delhi police, operating under the Home Ministry’s authority, failing to halt attacks and even directly participating in the violence. At least 50 people were killed.

USCIRF urged the State Department to sanction India along with 13 other countries as countries of particular concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for carrying out or allowing particularly severe violations of religious freedom.

America’s IRFA law defines “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom as:

[S]ystematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations … including violations such as—(A) torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; (B) prolonged detention without charges; (C) causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or (D) other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.

The last time USCIRF called on State to deem India a country of most significant concern was in 2004 during a period of a Hindu nationalist government mistreating religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians.

Several assessments by monitor groups such as Open Doors, media outlets, and even the State Department have determined that Christians and Muslims in India are facing extreme persecution by Hindu extremists emboldened by Modi’s BJP party.

USCIRF urged the Trump administration to “impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom.”

The commissions also urged State to add several other countries to its Special Watch List (SWL), a less severe designation for religious freedom violators than a “country of particular concern.”

USCIRF acknowledged that President Donald Trump praised the U.S.-India relationship in 2019, adding that the two countries strengthened their security and defense ties during that period.

Nevertheless, “U.S. officials highlighted concerns with India’s religious freedom violations through public statements, congressional hearings, and bilateral engagements” last year, the commission reported.

U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback conceded to Breitbart News last year that “it’s been difficult” to convince India to respect religious freedom.

During a visit to India in February of this year, Trump indicated that Modi is committed to religious freedom.

“We did talk about religious freedom, and I will say that the prime minister was incredible in what he told me,” Trump said. “He wants people to have religious freedom and very strongly.”

India, however, continues to deny U.S. assertions that the Modi administration is engaging in or tolerating the severe persecution of religious minorities, primarily Muslims, but also Christians.

India’s Srivastava reportedly said the U.S. commission’s “biased and tendentious comments against India are not new.”

“On this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels,” the official added.

About 14 percent of India’s predominantly Hindu population is Muslim, and over two percent Christian, the commission noted.

Three of the then USCIRF commissioners dissented with the body’s recommendation on India being one of the world’s most severe violators of religious freedom.

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