Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to the US for an official state visit from June 21 to 24. He will be hosted by US President Joe Biden at the White House. But just a month before that, the US State Department on (Monday) May 15 released an annual report on religious freedom around the world. The report lists attacks against minorities in the country, and wants India to condemn them.
A senior US official said that Russia, India, China and Saudi Arabia, continue to freely target faith community members, as the US state department released its Congressional-mandatory annual report that documents the status of religious freedom in countries across the world.
"Far too many governments continue to freely target faith community members within their borders," Rashad Hussain, Ambassador at Large, Office of International Religious Freedom, told reporters.
Today @SecBlinken released the annual International Religious Freedom Report, highlighting the status of religious freedom, a core American value and a fundamental freedom enshrined in international law. https://t.co/da8mrM0xcs https://t.co/YS8vTiJlYO— Department of State (@StateDept) May 15, 2023
A senior US official spoke of India's "vast potential" and said he was "saddened" by the persistence of religious violence. "Regarding these concerns, we're continuing to encourage the government to condemn violence and hold accountable (those) who engage in rhetoric that's dehumanizing towards religious minorities," the official said.
The India section of the document talks about violence by law enforcement authorities against members of religious minorities including the demolition of houses, plain clothes cops in Gujarat publicly flogging four Muslim men, Madhya Pradesh government bulldozing Muslim-owned houses and shops, and the Delhi riots in 2020 among other such instances.
The report also talk about police arresting Christians accused of forcing others to convert. "Christian groups said police sometimes aided crowds who disrupted worship services the crowds said were forcibly converting Hindus," the report said.
The report mentions how Haryana and Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh have passed anti-conversion laws and talks about the Karnataka hijab ban issue. "In October, the Supreme Court failed to reach agreement in a review of a Karnataka High Court ruling that upheld a Karnataka government ban on religious garb in educational institutions, including wearing hijabs in an all-girls' school in that state," the reports reads.
The document mentions that 108 former senior government officials writing to PM Narendra Modi stating that government discrimination against religious minorities, "particularly Muslims, in states like Assam, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand," was "undermining" the country's constitution.
It also mentions the violent protests in and acts of arson in India after BJP spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal made televised remarks about the Prophet Muhammad which were widely seen as offensive by Muslims.
Even though in the report the US calls on India to condemn religious violence, there was no comment made on India by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
Also, the India section of the annual report is almost similar to that of the previous years, which is more or less a documentation of allegations of violation of religious freedom raised by multiple media outlets and non-governmental organisations inside and outside the country, reported PTI.
The Biden administration on Monday said that US's partnership with India is one of our most consequential relations. "Our partnership with India is one of our most consequential relationships and we work closely with India on a number of vital priorities. The state visit is an opportunity to deepen some of these partnerships," Vedant Patel, the state department's Deputy Press Secretary told reporters.
So, even though timing of the release of this report makes things look a bit tricky, it is highly unlikely that it will have any real impact on US-India relations or change PM Modi's plans of visiting America next month.
The US State Department publishes an annual report called the International Religious Freedom Report. It is a comprehensive overview of the state of religious freedom in every country in the world, and is prepared in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. It covers various aspects of religious freedom, including government policies, societal attitudes, legal protections, and instances of religious discrimination or persecution.
The report typically includes an overview of global trends and specific country reports that provide detailed analysis of individual nations. These country reports evaluate the level of religious freedom, noting any improvements or deteriorations from the previous year. The assessments are based on information gathered from a variety of sources, such as government officials, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious leaders, and human rights activists.
It is also an important tool for policymakers, researchers, and advocates interested in promoting religious freedom and human rights around the world. It helps shed light on the situation in different countries and serves as a reference for discussions on international religious freedom issues.
India rejected the US State Department's 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom, calling it "flawed", "motivated", and "biased".
"We are aware of the release of the US State Department 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom. Regrettably, such reports continue to be based on misinformation and flawed understanding," Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Motivated and biased commentary by some US officials only serves to undermine further the credibility of these reports. We value our partnership with the US and will continue to have frank exchanges on issues of concern to us," he said.