US Panel Wants India to Be Placed on Religious Freedom Blacklist. Reasons? CAA-NRC, Article 370

Social Commentary

US Panel Wants India to Be Placed on Religious Freedom Blacklist. Reasons? CAA-NRC, Article 370

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Unity in diversity is one of the principles on which the modern Republic of India was founded in 1947, a nod to the multitude of faiths, belief systems, and ways of life that called this country home. However, a little over 70 years later, that unity between different religions is under threat, something that has caught the attention of the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a US government entity that monitors, analyses, and reports on threats to religious freedom across the globe. In the USCIRF 2020 report to the US Congress, India was included on the list of “Countries of Particular Concern” for the first time since 2004. The other nations on the list include Pakistan, North Korea, China, and Saudi Arabia.

The report cites the controversial CAA-NRC issue, revoking of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, and Delhi riots in February this year (which took place outside the reporting period of USCIRF’s annual report) as reasons to downgrade India.

Home Minister Amit Shah and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath find a mention in the report. “Home Minister Amit Shah referred to migrants as ‘termites’ to be eradicated… in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the BJP chief minister Yogi Adityanath pledged ‘revenge’ against anti-CAA protestors and stated they should be fed ‘bullets not biryani’,” it said.

The panel has also accused the government of creating “a culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities”.

However, the Indian government, for its part, does not recognise the USCIRF. Reacting to the report, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs Anurag Srivastava told the media, “We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF annual report. Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels… It has not been able to carry its own commissioners in its endeavour. We regard it as an organisation of particular concern and will treat it accordingly.”

In its capacity as an advisory body, USCIRF in its report recommended that the US 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. However, these recommendations are not ironclad, and can thus be overlooked by President Donald Trump, which some commentators believe is likely to happen.

Though USCIRF remains an advisory body, it had some strong words regarding what it sees as the deterioration of religious freedom in India. The body’s vice-chair Nadine Maenza stated that she saw “the steepest, and most alarming, deterioration in religious freedom conditions” from India, out of all the 14 countries on the list as Countries of Particular Concern.

However, the decision to classify India as a “Country of Particular Concern” was not unanimous.  Out of the nine USCIRF commissioners, three of them – Gary L Bauer, Tenzin Dorjee, and Johnnie Moore – dissented with India’s classification. However, given that it was three against six, the classification was made official. Their statements of dissent can be read, along with the entire report, here.

India now joins Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam on the USCIRF list of countries where religious freedom is in jeopardy.