Ahead of PM Modi’s visit, top US Senators voice concern over religious freedom in India

The Senators raised concerns on some of the pressing issues of religious freedom from rising intolerance to prevailing anti-conversion laws.

By: PTI | Washington | Updated: May 25, 2016 2:11 pm
narendra modi, modi us visit, us visit modi, narendra modi us, india religious freedom, modi religious freedom, us senate religious freedom, india news, us india ties, latest newsmod PM Narendra Modi at a dinner hosted by the President of United States of America (USA), Barack Obama, at the White House, in Washington. (Source: PTI/File)

Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, top US Senators have expressed deep concern over religious freedom, increasing attack on civil society and human rights in India with the Obama Administration saying it was having a dialogue with the country on these issues.

“The situation does raise concern about religious freedom in India,” Colorado Senator Cory Gardner said during a Congressional hearing on India convened by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, while expressing his concern on recent incidents of religious intolerance when artists returned their awards, said he is hoping to raise this issue with Prime Minister Modi when he travels to Washington DC next month.

Describing the anti-conversion laws in some states as problematic, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, a Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concern over religious freedom in India.

Some of the members also raised the issue of denying visas to the members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Agreeing with the concerns of the Senators, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal said while the Obama Administration has been raising these issues and concerns at the highest level and is having a dialogue with India on this issue, it is the vibrant civil society of India which is itself the most robust and string voice on this.

“There has been fairly vigorous and vociferous debate within India with respect to religious freedom and religious tolerance,” Biswal said, adding that there is no more robust voice than the voice of the Indian people that is taking up these issues with increasing vigour and public debate.

“It is on the headlines of Indian newspapers that you are seeing a very active engagement on this issue. I think, these are issues, these are values that we hold very dear, that we bring into the conversation. But we try to do it in a constructive way possible to not take away the fact that these are issues that Indian must grapple with and get right for their own country, for their own democracy, for their own society,” Biswal said in response to a question.

“And that we in the United States have experiences to share, lessons to share, best practices to share. But we seek to do that in a way that respects and honours the fact that this democracy has a very vibrant and a very vocal civil society and media and political party system that is also trying to get this right,” she said.

Cardin alleged that India has inconsistent record in the manner in which they treat women and girls.

“So tell us the progress being made in dealing with slavery in our relationship with India. This is democratically, a friend. Are we being candid with them with regard to trafficking,” he asked.

“Absolutely we are being candid. It’s an issue of Indian capacity to address the very large,” Biswal said, adding that there is increasing awareness in commitment at the national level to try to deal with these issues.

“But there is a long way to go. It would be increasingly incumbent upon India to advance the rule of law to all aspect of the society,” she added.

Senator Kaine said the heartening aspect of India today has a vibrant civil society that is not shy at all raising these issues.

Citing a recent report of the International Religious Freedom, the Republican Senator said the situation of religious freedom has deteriorated in India.

“One of the concerns that we have raised with our counterparts in India is the regulatory and legal framework that seeks to constrain the activities of the civil society organisations, whether they be Indian or international organisations. This is a continuing area of concern,” Biswal said.

Gardner alleged that foreign non-governmental organisations are being harassed by the Indian government.

“It’s deeply concerning to me,” he said, citing the example of Colorado-based Compassion International.

“In India Compassion International has been sued by the Income Tax four times. Their assets have been seized. They have had their employees and church pastors interrogated for hours by intelligence bureau. Twelve separate visa applications have been denied,” Gardner said.

“We are concerned about the attack on civil society within India. They have to be effectively be able to speak. (But) it does not relieve us from developing and working with leaders in India that recognise that these are not western values, these are universal issues that India needs to make progress on,” Cardin said.

In a massive country like India it is a huge challenge to deal with issues of uniform capacity and capability to address the rights of every individual citizen, said Biswal in response to concerns being expressed by the Senators.

“We do think that there is a lot more that can and should be done to address issues of trafficking and child labour,” she said.

“In all of our interactions, we raise issues particularly if we have specific instances or cases of concern to seek Indian responses and actions,” she added.

“India has 12-14 million slaves. There are 27 million slaves in the world. How does a country like this has 12-14 million slave in the year 2016? How does that happen?” Senator Bob Corker Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked.

Responding to a question on denying visa to members of USCIRF, Biswal said the Administration has tried to impress the Indian government to provide them with visas.

She also noted that the successive Indian governments have denied the visa.

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  1. S
    Sabrina James
    Jan 31, 2017 at 1:25 am
    1. A
      May 25, 2016 at 11:58 am
      American bullies are responsible for most of the globsl problems. They supported all dictators "in the onterest of freedom" . America heal thyself for religious freedom before criticisong others.
      1. B
        Jun 1, 2016 at 12:51 am
        Private American citizens have given billions of dollars to clothe, feed, house, and educate your poorest citizens. The fact that many of these organizations have religious origins should be irrelevant. Conversion is not a prerequisite to receiving aid.
        1. D
          Deeply Concerned
          May 25, 2016 at 12:53 pm
          US must talk about right to safe schooling in their country with so many murders and still no gun control
          1. R
            Rock G
            May 28, 2016 at 1:58 am
            Americans as our allays but draw the line don't preach we have a religion that is thousands years before christ. We know how to pray and to be tollerant
            1. R
              Rock G
              May 28, 2016 at 1:54 am
              First they should clean their own back yard, address racism in America before preaching to India. What religious freedom in US since when?
              1. K
                May 25, 2016 at 9:56 am
                AREThese "religious freedom" the pressing issues of senators with Indian PM?
                1. K
                  May 25, 2016 at 9:52 am
                  What is the problem of these senators about freedom of religion in India? Trying to bully PM? conversions stopped is their problem? Smear campaign of intolerance is buried long back.want India to be converted into evangelical land?how they want to raise this with PM? he should give a tough reply.Hindus are at the recieving end all these years,making them forget their ancient culture, values. pride in their religion on their own soil.What is there to say to PM?
                  1. L
                    Jun 6, 2016 at 10:14 am
                    Abraham Lincoln said,You can fool some people sometime but can't fool all the people all the time"dian Government must wake up, people all over the world are watching your bad deeds and inactions.
                    1. M
                      Mathew Mathew
                      Jun 6, 2016 at 5:44 pm
                      Modi should raise the issue of US torture in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Vietnam, Latin America etc. etc. Let the US senators and congress reps answer him.
                      1. N
                        Nimish Joshi
                        May 25, 2016 at 8:54 pm
                        Lol, when they have their own house cleaning they point fingers! Give equality to women and minorities before talking about others!!
                        1. R
                          Rajiv Pande
                          May 25, 2016 at 9:40 pm
                          When the church converts it also fils hatred towards Hindus in the hearts of the new converts. This hatred is an important part of the conversion process because it ensures that the convert will remain with the church.
                          1. R
                            Rajiv Pande
                            May 25, 2016 at 9:22 pm
                            Why do Christians have this intense desire to convert others? This appears to be the main issue with these senators. The rest of the allegations - slavery, human rights etc is just a lot of riff raff. The USA has never hesitated to support autocratic dictatorships whenever it suited them.
                            1. R
                              Jun 9, 2016 at 3:10 am
                              I'm ritu from JAL some problem in my kidney.pls help me
                              1. S
                                s b
                                May 25, 2016 at 2:42 pm
                                These silly americans should keep their voices to themselves. They cannot differentiate between a sikh and a muslim. For them anyone having a beard, is a terorrist. They cannot keep their black citizens lives safely, but interfere in other nations internal matters. Why not point a finger to stan ???
                                1. C
                                  Ch V
                                  May 26, 2016 at 3:02 pm
                                  Why do Christians and Muslims desire always to convert others? The reason is simple : they are overweighed by a raging inferiority complex. It is well known that a woman turns green when placed by the side of a better looking specimen. They realise that their religions are very poor when compared to say, Hinduism. Anybody who claims that HIS RELIGION only is great exposes his poverty of thought.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Americans are deriding India on the charge that there is no religious freedom here. It is indeed a pity that US Citizens, who, we thought, were sober, are proving themselves very egoistical : see the number of Black citizens openly shot dead by WHITE Police officers; the number of Muslim males and females thrown out of aeroplanes just before take off because either the plane staff or co-penger does not like the Muslim (or Sikh) face.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Donald Trump who is very open in his dislike of Muslims and wants to bar fresh entry of Muslims into US , IS OVERWHELMINGLY SUPPORTED BY THE POTENTIAL VOTERS AND HE IS THE REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE - ALMOST, and he may be next US President, Is the US Potion not oozing out religious intolerance of Muslims and Sikhs? lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Should the US, with its current intolerance of Muslims and Sikhs, not be ashamed of castigating India, particularly on BOGUS charges?
                                  1. V
                                    May 26, 2016 at 5:10 pm
                                    Guys in united states they are talking about religious freedom, but let first make self analysis of there racial atude. Then let they stop spending money on mARketing the commodity Jesus for relgius conversion if u guys want to get converted to Hinduism which is the ay of life for which we don't need to preach any body.
                                    1. V
                                      May 25, 2016 at 11:27 am
                                      Are they blind on stan and Bangladesh, where the minority Hindus are butchered? Yes, may not be. Because, in USA, there Kerala Christians to pressure. These s from Kerala are the root cause of disorders in India, whether conversion or encroachments.
                                      1. V
                                        Vidya Vijay
                                        Jun 1, 2016 at 3:06 pm
                                        Evangelical websites crow about the 'opportunities' poverty in India brings for 'christian soul harvesting '. Dogmatic religions that believe in gory things like blood sacrifice are inherently violent. The cloak of peace slips ever so often. Instead of accepting that ' religion ' is an outdated and violence engendering concept, these US senators are trying to impose their dogmas on a country like india
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