The 2015 annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has slammed the NDA government for its “minority policy” and expressed concern about “Ghar Wapsi” incidents. However, it has conceded that PM Narendra Modi’s statement on religious tolerance at a Christian religious meet is a “positive development.”
USCIRF is an independent bipartisan federal government commission created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad. It is among the organisations that had recommended to the US State Department to deny visa to Narendra Modi over the 2002 Gujarat riots. In 2009 India refused to grant visa to USCIRF commissioners to travel to India. That stand has not been reversed yet.
The report also refers to US President Barack Obama’s Town Hall speech in which he underscored the importance of religious tolerance and reminded the Indian government about Article 25 of the Constitution.
The report has said since 2008 and 2010 – long before NDA came to power- “Muslim communities have reported facing undue scrutiny and arbitrary arrests and detentions, which the government justifies by the need to counter terrorism. In addition, for several years, Indian Christians, Christian missionary groups, and Hindus who convert to Christianity or another faith have reported more frequent harassment…particularly in states with anti-conversion laws.”
In its recommendations, USCIRF has said: “Integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateral contacts with India, including the framework of future Strategic Dialogues, at both the federal and provincial level, and encourage the strengthening of the capacity of state and central police to implement effective measures to prohibit and punish cases of religious violence and protect victims and witnesses…”
It also asked the US government to urge the Indian government to press states that have adopted anti-conversion laws to repeal or amend them to conform with internationally recognised human rights standards.
The report has also chronicled “violations” against Christians, Muslims and Sikhs.
“The Evangelical Fellowship of India has documented more than 38 incidents targeting Christians in November and December 2014 alone… In September 2014, police arrested nearly 150 people in the state of Gujarat after violence left dozens, mostly Muslims, severely injured,” says the report.
It has named Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Orissa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan as states that tend to have the greatest number of religiously motivated attacks and incidents of communal violence.