US sting on religious freedom
US ambassador at large for international religious freedom Sam Brownback on Wednesday said Washington is very concerned about what is happening in India with regard to religious freedom and fearing a growth in violence and difficulty in society as a result, if left unaddressed.
He said this during a phone call with foreign journalists in Washington, hours after the US state department released the 2019 International Religious Freedom Report. Listing the country-wise record of incidents, the India chapter takes note of the religion-specific Citizenship Amendment Act, the developments in Jammu & Kashmir, cow vigilantism and inflammatory remarks by BJP leaders against minority communities.
“We do remain very concerned about what’s taking place in India. It’s historically just been a very tolerant, respectful country of religions, of all religions,’’ Brownback said, adding that the trend lines have been troubling in India because it is such a religious subcontinent and seeing a lot more communal violence.
“We’re seeing a lot more difficulty. I think really they need to have a — I would hope they would have an — interfaith dialogue starting to get developed at a very high level in India, and then also deal with the specific issues that we identified as well,’’ PTI quoted him as saying.
“It really needs a lot more effort on this topic in India, and my concern is, too, that if those efforts are not put forward, you’re going to see a growth in violence and increased difficulty within the society writ large,” he added.
Responding to a clutch of questions on the report and Brownback’s comments, external affairs ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said: “Our principled position remains that we see no locus standi for a foreign entity to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.’’
About the report itself, Srivastava said it is published annually by the department of state as part of its legal requirement to the US Congress and is an internal document of the US government. “India’s vibrant democratic traditions and practices are evident to the world. The people and government of India are proud of our country’s democratic traditions. We have a robust public discourse in India and constitutionally mandated institutions that guarantee protection of religious freedom and rule of law.’’
India has traditionally resisted any comment on this count from foreign governments and this is a policy that the Modi government is continuing to adhere to.
Earlier this year in April, India got its harshest rating since 2004 from the bipartisan United States Commission on International Religious Freedom which has recommended to the state department to place the country among the “Countries of Particular Concern” along with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, China and eight other nations where governments engage in or tolerate particularly serious violations of religious freedom.
The US state department, as per law, has to act on the recommendations within 90 days of publication of the International Religious Freedom Report.