Religious freedom in India continued downward trend in 2018: USCIRF

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Washington: Citing India as one of the countries where it is increasingly difficult to separate religion and politics, a US federal government appointed commission on Monday alleged that religious freedom in India continued a “downward trend” in 2018.

US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its annual report on international religious freedom, said that in several countries where it found deteriorating religious freedom conditions in 2018, it also found increased “securitisation and politicisation” of religion.

For example, in countries like India, it is increasingly difficult to separate religion and politics, a tactic that is sometimes intentional by those who seek to discriminate against and restrict the rights of certain religious communities, the USCIRF said.

And the very governments perpetrating or tolerating these abuses often decry interference in internal affairs when they are rightfully admonished for their deplorable religious freedom and human rights records, the report said, without mentioning India.

India has previously rubbished USCIRF’s report on religious freedom, saying the group has no locus standi to pass its judgment and comment on its citizens constitutionally protected rights.

USCIRF retained India in Tier Two Category of countries on religious freedom; the other countries being Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia and Turkey.

Countries are placed in Tier 2 for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the systematic, ongoing, egregious standard for designation as a country of particular concern.

Based on its report, USCIRF recommended that the State Department in 2018 redesignate 10 countries as Countries of Particular Concerns on religious freedom. These are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

USCIRF also found that six other countries meet the CPC standard and should be so designated: Central African Republic, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

In the India section of the report, USCIRF said that in 2018, religious freedom conditions continued a downward trend”.

“Its history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives including, at times, the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities,” it said.

USCIRF alleged that in 2018, approximately one-third of state governments increasingly enforced anti-conversion and/or anti-cow slaughter laws discriminatorily against non-Hindus and Dalits alike.

Further, cow protection mobs engaged in violence predominantly targeting Muslims and Dalits, some of whom have been legally involved in the dairy, leather, or beef trades for generations. Mob violence was also carried out against Christians under accusations of forced or induced religious conversion, it said.

In cases involving mobs killing an individual based on false accusations of cow slaughter or forced conversion, police investigations and prosecutions often were not adequately pursued.

Rules on the registration of foreign-funded nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) were discriminatorily implemented against religious minority groups. Religious freedom conditions varied dramatically from state to state, with some states continuing to be relatively open, and free for religious minorities, while othersif taken on their ownhad systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, the report said.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi seldom made statements decrying mob violence, and certain members of his political party have affiliations with Hindu extremist groups and used inflammatory language about religious minorities publicly, the report said.

Victims of large scale attacks in recent years have not been granted justice, and reports of new crimes committed against religious minorities were not adequately accounted for or prosecuted.

India’s substantial population both complicates and limits the ability of national and state institutions to address these issues, USCIRF said.

USCIRF said the Indian government repeatedly has denied USCIRF access to India.Agencies

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