The US ambassador at large for international religious freedom Rashad Hussain has voiced concern over the treatment of a number of religious communities in India and said Washington was dealing directly with Indian officials to address the “challenges.” Addressing the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit here on Thursday, Hussain said his father came from India to the US in 1969.
“This country gave him everything but he loves India and follows what happens every day. My parents and we have a conversation about that, as do so many of you who reach out to us and are looking at what’s going on in India and love the country and want to see it live up to its values,” he said.
The US was “concerned” about a number of religious communities in India and was “dealing directly” with Indian officials to address the challenges, Hussain said.
“India now has a citizenship law that’s on the books. We’ve had open calls for genocide in India. We’ve had attacks on churches. We have had a ban on the hijab. We’ve had demolitions of homes,” the Indian-American diplomat said.
“We’ve got rhetoric that’s openly being used that’s dehumanising towards people, to the extent that one minister referred to Muslims as termites,” he said, apparently referring to Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s comments. In one of his speeches, he referred to Bangladeshi migrants as “termites”.
“So you have these ingredients..so it’s important that we take note and work towards the challenges we face,” he said, adding that it is the “responsibility” of the United States to speak out on human rights and religious freedoms not just in India, but across the world.
India has repeatedly rejected the criticism against it in the US State Department reports on religious freedom and statements by senior officials, saying it is unfortunate that “vote bank politics” is being practised in international relations. In its reaction, India has expressed concern over racially and ethnically motivated attacks, hate crimes and gun violence in the US.
In his remarks, Hussain also said that he had met with Indian Christians, Sikhs, Dalits and the indigenous people.
He recalled that the Early Warning Project of the US Holocaust Museum had “designated India as the number two country in the world at risk of mass killings.” “For any society to live up to its potential, we have to secure the rights of all people. Our job is to protect the religious freedom of all people everywhere in the world” he said.
“It is important that we work together and fight for the rights of all people. If there is anyone who is attacked – there was an attack yesterday, it was despicable — we have to condemn that too,” he said, apparently referring to the killing of a tailor in Udaipur.
Two men, identified as Riaz Akhtari and Ghouse Mohammad, with a cleaver hacked Lal to death in Udaipur city and posted videos online that said they are avenging an insult to Islam, triggering stray cases of violence in the Rajasthan city.
Referring to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s remarks “about [the] attacks on places and people of worship… in India,” made while releasing the US Department of State’s 2021 International Religious Freedom Report on June 2, he rejected the view that the US had no locus standi in assessing global religious freedoms.
“Some people ask… ‘Who are you as an ambassador for international religious freedom’, or ‘who are you as the United States to make these assessments about other countries in the world?’,” he said.
“The fairly persuasive answer to this was that the US was founded on religious freedom: many of our founders were fleeing religious persecution themselves. The first amendment in our Constitution protects the freedom of religion,” he said.
India had rejected the criticism against it in the US State Department report on religious freedom last month, saying it is unfortunate that “vote bank politics” is being practised in international relations.
External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said the observation on India in the report is based on “motivated inputs and biased views”.
The annual report on international religious freedom, released by Secretary of State Blinken alleged that attacks on members of the minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, took place throughout 2021 in India.
“We have noted the release of the US State Department 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom, and ill-informed comments by senior US officials,” Bagchi said last month.
“It is unfortunate that vote bank politics is being practised in international relations. We would urge that assessments based on motivated inputs and biased views be avoided,” Bagchi said.
“As a naturally pluralistic society, India values religious freedom and human rights. In our discussions with the US, we have regularly highlighted issues of concern there, including racially and ethnically motivated attacks, hate crimes and gun violence,” he said.
The IRF Summit 2022, which ended on Thursday was the second annual gathering of international freedom advocates and activists from around the world. The organisers ahead of the summit said the 3-day meeting will highlight increasing threats to freedom of religion, conscience and belief, and it will once again offer the IRF community a chance to come together to advance shared goals for extending these fundamental freedoms to people and faith communities across the globe.