WASHINGTON: Despite refusing to allow United States commissioners to visit India to monitor the state of religious freedom, India once again succeeds in managing its credibility at the international level over human rights and religious freedom when US Commission on Religious Freedom released its Annual Report 2017 in Washington DC.
US Commission on International Religious Freedom released the annual report with three categories – “Countries of particular concern (CPC)”, Tier 2 countries” and the “Regions monitored”. The USCIRF in its report recommends that the US State Department should designate at least 10 countries as CPC as the state of religious freedom is worsening there.
Pakistan is placed as a CPC country with Burma, China, Eriteria, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam, while India, who refused to allow US commissioners to visit India on numerous occasions, was not in the list. India was placed in (Tier 2) countries with Afghanistan, Cuba, Malaysia, Turkey and others, means the US Commission will continue to monitor the situation and will not include them in the CPC.
“In 2016, religious tolerance and religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate in India. Hindu nationalist groups such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Sangh Parivar and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and their sympathisers perpetrated numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment and violence against religious minority communities and Hindu Dalits,” said the US Commission report. It further says that members of the ruling party in India have ties to Hindu nationalist groups implicated in religious freedom violations, used religiously divisive language to inflame tensions.
The USCIRF report says that these issues, combined with longstanding problems of police and judicial bias and inadequacies, have created a pervasive climate of impunity in which religious minorities feel increasingly insecure and have no recourse when religiously motivated crimes occur. “Based on these concerns, USCIRF again places India on its (Tier 2) where it has been since 2009,” the report said.
When this correspondent asked the US Commission Chair Thomas J Reese that how he could spare India from the CPC when the country had not even allowed the commissioners to visit, he said, “At least Pakistan lets us come and visit, but India refused us... to allow our commission to learn the situation of religious freedom on the ground. Whenever they criticise us and our findings, we say ‘well, let us come’.”
“There are very serious problems in India but India is also a huge country, there are serious problems in about 10 to 19 states only, Thomas J Reese the Chairman of US Commission said when asked that why India was not placed in CPC category.
“I am very concerned about the Hindu nationalist groups that are allied with the political parties and the use of religion to steer up sectarian conflict for political reasons, I think this is very dangerous very concerning but u know if we talk about other parts of India and talk to Catholic Bishops they say we have no problem, said Rev Thomas J Reese, Chair of US Commission.
“I think it’s a great concern we put India in (Tier 2). It’s not the issue in whole country, that’s why it’s not the CPC country but it is something we continue to monitor and if you see our report we have lot of concerns and examples of problems India needs to fix,” he said.
In the annual report the US Commission urged the Indian government to publicly rebuke government officials and religious leaders who make derogatory statements about religious communities. The report once again demanded Indian Government to allow USCIRF to visit the country and urged the Indian Government to invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion to visit India.
On Pakistan the CPC country, US Commission asked US Department of State to press Pakistan government to implement the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision to create a special police force to protect religious groups from violence and actively prosecute perpetrators, both individuals involved in mob attacks and members of militant groups.
The US Commission also urged the Pakistani Federal and Provincial governments to review al l cases of individuals charged with blasphemy in order to release those who were falsely accused, while still calling for the unconditional release of all individuals sentenced to prison for blasphemy. The US commissioners on the occasion also mentioned the Mishal Khan incident in detail.