The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has listed India as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) in its 2020 Annual Report.
This is the first time the USCIRF has included India in this particular list since 2004; it joins several other countries who are known to oppress and violate the religious freedoms of their citizens, including Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.
In response to the damning designation, The External Affairs Ministry in India immediately rejected the report’s findings, calling it a “new level of misrepresentation” and lambasting it as “biased.”
According to USCIRF, a CPC is a country in which the government “engages in or tolerates particular ‘severe violations’ of religious freedom.”
“Severe violation” refers to the “systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious violations…, including violations such as torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; prolonged detention without charges; causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or other flagrant denials of the right to life, liberty or the security of person,” according to the report.
Despite the Indian Constitution enshrining protections for the right to religious practice, in reality, the country is known to be a deeply inhospitable environment for religious minorities. Christians and Muslims have been increasingly oppressed since Prime Minister Modi, himself a Hindu, came to power with his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) back in 2014.
UCSIRF said that BJP, which is known for pandering to uber-nationalist Hindu radicals, has “used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially Muslims...[and] 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.”
The Chief Executive of persecution watchdog Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Mervyn Thomas, said that CSW “welcomes and echoes USCIRF’s recommendation that India should be designated as a CPC.”
“It has come at a very significant time, as concerns about freedom of religion or belief in India has escalated since the BJP took the helm of power seven years ago,” he added.
“The fact that the largest democracy in the world has been recommended as a CPC is deeply concerning indicator of the extent to which freedoms and human rights have deteriorated in the country.
Finally, Thomas said he hoped that the findings will “prompt the international community to apply greater pressure on India to take measures to protect and promote the religious minorities.”
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Will Maule is a British journalist who has spent the past several years working as a digital news editor. Since earning a degree in international relations and politics, Will has developed a particular interest in covering ethical issues, human rights and global religious persecution. Will's work has been featured in various outlets including The Spectator, Faithwire, CBN News, Spiked, The Federalist and Christian Headlines. Follow him on Twitter at @WillAMaule.