Its teams denied visa by the Indian government following reports critical of the state of religious freedom in India, an advisory body to the US Congress has said Delhi should have “the confidence to allow our visit”.
In an email response to queries by The Indian Express, the spokesperson of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Danielle Saroyan Ashbahian, said: “We want to have a constructive discussion and dialogue with the Indian government. That is why we have long wanted to travel to India and continue to be interested in traveling there. As a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit, which would give it the opportunity to convey its views directly to USCIRF in a constructive dialogue.”
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar first revealed the denial of visas to USCIRF teams, in a letter on June 1 to BJP MP Nishikant Dubey. Speaking in Parliament in December 2019, Dubey had raised observations made by USCIRF against India.
While not specifying when the USCIRF was denied the visas, Ashbahian said, “USCIRF wants the US-India relationship to be as productive and meaningful as possible — and we believe that religious freedom should be an important part of that relationship.”
At least twice earlier, in 2009 and 2016, India is known to have denied visas to USCIRF teams.
On Friday, the USCIRF also welcomed the release of the US State Department’s 2019 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, which had a detailed account of protests against the Indian government’s decisions regarding Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and special status of Jammu and Kashmir. The report, released by US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo on Thursday, also talks about “religiously inspired mob violence, lynching and communal violence”, and says that “some officials of Hindu-majority parties, including from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), made inflammatory public remarks or social media posts against minority communities”.
In a statement, USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins said it “appreciates the release of this comprehensive report and the State Department’s continued commitment to improving religious freedom conditions abroad”, adding, “we urge the State Department to designate India as a CPC (Country of Particular Concern) for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations”.
India dismissed the document as an “internal report” of the US government, and said that Washington has “no locus standi” to comment on the issue.
The observations by the USCIRF that ran foul of Delhi were made by it in its 2020 Annual Report, released on April 29, which recommended that the US State Department designate 14 countries, including India, as CPCs. The report had specifically mentioned Union Home Minister Amit Shah twice.
The USCIRF report had also criticised Pakistan and China for their treatment of their religious minorities. A bipartisan outfit that advises the US Congress, the USCIRF comprises civil society members nominated by all major political leaders in the US. Its views are not meant to represent the opinion of the US administration or the US Congress.
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