The US has announced a grant of nearly USD 500,000 for organisations which can come up with ideas and projects to promote religious freedom in India and Sri Lanka. The Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, in its notice, said it seeks to “reduce religiously-motivated violence and discrimination in India” through its USD 493,827 programme.
And for Sri Lanka, it seeks to ensure that authorities at all levels of government in Sri Lanka effectively implement national laws and policies protecting religious freedom. Recipient of both the India Programme and Sri Lanka – with similar objectives of religious freedom and protection – would be announced after screening of applications in this regard, it said.
For India, the state department wants the applying organisation to come up with proposals to develop and implement early warning systems to mitigate large-scale violence; and implement conflict mitigation programs between minority and majority groups. The applicant also needs to ideate successful programme activities to counter hateful or discriminatory public messages with positive messages using all kinds of media.
The state department also wants the applicants to come up with ideas to educate civil society and journalists about legal protections for religious freedom, particularly for members of religious minorities; document and report religious freedom violations to authorities; and educate law enforcement on human rights standards.
The State Department did not respond immediately to a set of questions on the necessity of such a grant. According to the information available on the state department’s website, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor supports over 28 democracy, human rights, and labor programmes in South and Central Asia (SCA).
Current funding for these programmes exceeds USD 17 million.
Programme topics include media innovation and development, gender advocacy and equality, and improving protections for political, labor, and human rights.
India is not among the countries listed by the state department as recipient of these funding programmes.
The countries currently receiving grants from the US in the region are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kazakhastan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
In its latest International Religious Freedom report, the state department said Christian and Muslim activists stated the government was not doing enough to protect them against religiously motivated attacks.
There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism, and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytize, it said. There was an increase in violent incidents by cow protection groups against mostly Muslim victims, including killings, mob violence, assaults, and intimidation.
Hindus threatened and assaulted Muslims and Christians and destroyed their property, it added. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), there were more than 300 incidents of abuse targeting Christians during the year, compared with 177 in 2015.
Incidents included assaults on missionaries, forced conversions of non-Hindus, and attacks on churches, schools, and private property. As for Sri Lanka, the state department notice of funding opportunity said it seeks to ensure that authorities at all levels of government in Sri Lanka effectively implement national laws and policies protecting religious freedom.