India hearing: USCIRF Commissioners, UN Special Rapporteur, experts call on US government to speak out against Modi’s minority persecution
Washington, D.C. (September 21, 2023) – Commissioners on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) raised concerns about the “sophisticated, systematic persecution” of religious minorities by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a hearing on India on Wednesday.
For the past four years, USCIRF has recommended India to be designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its severe violations of human rights and religious freedoms. This recommendation has yet to be implemented by the US Department of State.
In commending the testimonies of the experts and activists called to speak at the hearing, USCIRF Commissioner David Curry said, “I’ve become convinced that India has the most sophisticated, systematic persecution of religious minorities by any democratic government. And I don’t say that lightly.”
“Religious freedom conditions in India have notably declined in recent years,” said USCIRF Chair Rabbi Abraham Cooper. “Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Dalits, Adivasis are experiencing increased levels of attacks and acts of intimidation… These trends and their implications for US foreign policy should not be ignored.”
“Policymakers cannot ignore the foreign policy and trade implications of deteriorating religious conditions in India,” said Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie, adding that USCIRF’s reporting takes note of several Indian states’ legal restrictions “on religious conversion, religious dress, educational curriculum, interfaith marriage, and cow slaughter,” which “negatively impacts Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and Indigenous and scheduled tribal people.”
Other speakers also called on the US government to condemn India’s declining religious freedoms and human rights violations.
“It is for the government of the United States to be very frank here and indicate that there are serious areas of concern [in India]… in order to ensure peace,” said Dr. Fernand de Varennes, United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues. “Because if we don’t have that, we are heading towards a massive dangerous situation in India, [which] will have repercussions on the United States.”
Sarah Yager, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch, criticized the Biden administration’s open display of support for Modi as a means to counteract China.
“Prime Minister Modi was warmly welcomed in Washington as we remember very recently by the White House and Congress,” she said. “With this unmitigated demonstration of support by US officials, we question what reason [Modi] has to change course… China’s rise cannot be an excuse for US officials to overlook, ignore or play down the human rights abuses of its friends.”
Sunita Viswanath, co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights, read a statement on behalf of the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Dalit Solidarity Forum, Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations, Hindus for Human Rights, India Civil Watch International, and the New York State Council of Churches, all of which co-authored the statement.
“We are disappointed that Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Dalits, who face the brunt of religious freedom and human rights violations under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have not been invited to speak on this panel,” Viswanath said.
“The rejection by the Biden and Trump Administrations of USCIRF’s recommendation to designate India as a CPC for three years in a row is a troubling precedent,” she added. “If the Biden Administration continues its uncritical embrace of the Modi government despite mounting violations of religious freedom and human rights in India, America will carry the burden of being on the wrong side of history.”
Irfan Nooruddin, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor of Indian Politics in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, spoke on rising mob violence in India.
“Vigilante groups – in a manner reminiscent of the darkest periods of American history – harass, beat, and murder Muslim men rumored to be smuggling beef, dating a Hindu girl, or insulting a deity. No evidence is required,” he said.
Adding that these attacks are enabled by the Modi regime’s silence, Nooruddin said, “This offers an opening for the US government to call upon its alleged partner to speak more clearly and act more decisively to defend religious minorities.”