In its ‘International Religious Freedom Report’ for 2019, the United States administration has given a detailed account of the protests and criticism against the Indian government’s decisions on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and Article 370.
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”.
Calling it an “internal report” of the US government, the Indian government said Washington has “no locus standi” to comment on the issue.
Responding to questions on the report, the Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, “The report is published annually by the US State Department as part of the legal requirement to the US Congress. It is an internal document of the US government. India’s vibrant democratic traditions and practices are evident to the world. The people and the Government of India are proud of our country’s democratic traditions. We have a robust public discourse. And we have constitutionally mandated institutions that guarantee protection of religious freedom and rule of law. Therefore, our principal position remains that we see no local standi for a foreign entity to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.”
The annual report, submitted by the US Department of State to the US Congress on International Religious Freedom, talks about the status of religious freedom in every country. “In December, (Indian) Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which accelerates citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who entered the country on or before December 31, 2014, but not for similarly-situated migrants who are Muslims, Jews, atheists, or members of other faiths,” says the 27-page report.
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“The law generated widespread media and religious minority criticism, including legal challenges in the Supreme Court. Protests and violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Uttar Pradesh and Assam following the passage of the law resulted in 25 civilian deaths and hundreds of injuries,” it says.
On Article 370, it says: “In August, the central government revoked the semi-autonomous status of the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir and split it into two union territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh… The revocation sparked protests, criticism from Muslim leaders, and challenges filed in the Supreme Court from Opposition politicians, human rights activists, and others. The government sent thousands of additional security forces to the region, shut down many Internet and phone lines, and had not restored full service by year’s end. The government also closed most mosques in the area until mid-December. Seventeen civilians and three security personnel were killed during the protests.”
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“Issues of religiously inspired mob violence, lynching and communal violence were sometimes denied or ignored by lawmakers, according to a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media outlets. There were reports by NGOs that the government sometimes failed to act to prevent or stop mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalised communities and critics of the government,” it says.
“Mob attacks by violent Hindu groups against minority communities, including Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumors that victims had traded or killed cows for beef. Authorities often failed to prosecute perpetrators of such ‘cow vigilantism’, which included killings, mob violence, and intimidation. According to some NGOs, authorities often protected perpetrators from prosecution and filed charges against victims,” says the report.
The report mentions the Supreme Court’s decision on the Babri Masjid case too. “Leading national Muslim organisations and some Muslim litigants petitioned the court to review the decision and permit the mosque, which was destroyed by members of Hindu nationalist organisations in 1992, to be rebuilt on its original site. In December, the Supreme Court dismissed these petitions and maintained its ruling,” it said.
While the US embassies are learnt to prepare the initial drafts of country-specific chapters, the Office of International Religious Freedom, based in Washington, collaborates in collecting and analysing additional information for the report.
Earlier, in a letter dated June 1, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said the government had denied visas to teams of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a non-governmental advisory body to the US Congress, after its denouncement of the state of religious freedom in India.
Jaishankar said this in a letter to BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, who had raised the observations made by the USCIRF, in Parliament in December 2019.
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