The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC – www.iamc.com), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, today welcomed a report on religious freedom issued by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in which the US body has called on the State Department to place India in a list of “countries of particular concern,” based on a sharp uptick in violations of human rights and religious freedom in India.
The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission. It makes policy recommendations based on its review of global religious freedom to the US President, the Secretary of State and the US Congress. Until this year, USCIRF had placed India in Tier 2, which is the list of countries with the second-worst record of religious freedom violations.
“As a part of the Indian diaspora that only wishes well for the country of our birth, we view international criticism of India’s religious freedom record as distressing but painfully necessary, given the escalating level of persecution of minorities,” said Mr. Ahsan Khan, President of IAMC. “India being categorized as a top violator of religious freedoms while unfortunate, is expected and justified. We hope this report as well as recent concerns expressed by other countries, mark a turning point in the treatment of religious minorities as well as the caste oppressed in India ,” added Mr. Khan.
In its Annual International Religious Freedom Report released on Tuesday, USCIRF has made three key recommendations to the State Department and Congress:
- To designate India as a CPC for “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).”
- To impose “targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/ or barring their entry into the United States.”
- Strengthen the US Embassies’ and consulates’ engagement with religious communities, local officials and police; increase US partnerships with Indian law enforcement to build capacity to protect religious minorities.
Along with its partners, International Christian Concern (ICC) and Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), IAMC had in March written to USCIRF urging it to bring India into its list of the worst offenders of religious freedom violations in the world. That letter was co-signed by dozens of organizations and individuals, including Genocide Watch, Equality Labs, Jewish Voice for Peace, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Christian Solidarity Worldwide, UK, Emgage Action, and the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church of America.
Other organizations that had joined the appeal to USCIRF included The Boston Coalition, Alliance for Secular and Democratic South Asia, Organization for Minorities of India, Council on Minority Rights in India, India Civil Watch, Center for Pluralism, Indian Muslim Association of Greater Houston, Amnesty International (Houston Chapter), Coalition of Seattle Indian-Americans, and Muslim Public Affairs Council. A USCIRF official had also been the keynote speaker at a Congressional Briefing on Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register for Citizens (NRC) that had been organized on Capitol Hill by IAMC, HfHR, CAIR and Emgage Action on January 27, 2020.
USCIRF has based its decision to move India to the CPC list on account of India taking a “sharp downward turn in 2019.” The report has rightly expressed concern that following the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) re-election in May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s national government “used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims. The national government allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity, and also engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence.”
On the subject of the CAA and the NRC, both deeply repressive moves that caused convulsions across Indian society in the form of mass protests, the Commission noted that these were poised to put citizenships of millions into question, but “Muslims alone would bear the indignities and consequences of potential statelessness”.
Every year since 2010, USCIRF has been placing India in Tier 2 of its list of CPC. After the Indian government carried out massive atrocities against Muslims in India following its revocation of Kashmir’s special status; the legislation of the anti-Muslim law, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act; and the State-sponsored pogrom of Muslims in Delhi, India’s capital, Indian American Muslim Council launched a signature campaign to urge USCIRF to elevate India to Tier 1.
The USCIRF has been progressively more scathing in its assessment of the developments in India. In December, after the CAA was legislated by the Indian Parliament, USCIRF had urged the U.S. Government to sanction Indian Home Minister Amit Shah for his role in piloting the law, pointing out that the law set a “legal criterion for citizenship based on religion.”
The USCIRF had also sharply criticized the violence against Muslims in Delhi in February, noting that reports were “mounting that the Delhi police have not intervened in violent attacks against Muslims, and the government is failing in its duty to protect its citizens. These incidents are even more concerning in the context of efforts within India to target and potentially disenfranchise Muslims across the country, in clear violation of international human rights standards.”
Since 2011, the Indian Government has refused visas to USCIRF Commissioners to visit India.
IAMC has urged the Government of India to pay heed to USCIRF’s observations and take necessary corrective action in order to safeguard the lives and liberty of millions of Indian citizens.
Indian American Muslim Council
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