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Letter to USCIRF to Designate India as Country of Particular Concern.
LETTER TO USCIRF
April 3, 2021
Commissioner Gayle Manchin, USCIRF Chair
Commissioner Tony Perkins, Vice-Chair
Commissioner Anurima Bhargava, Vice-Chair
Commissioner Frederick A. Davie
Commissioner Gary L. Bauer
Commissioner James W. Carr
Commissioner Johnnie Moore
Commissioner Nadine Maenza
Commissioner Nury Turkel
Subject: India’s designation as Country of Particular Concern (CPC) in USCIRF Annual Report 2021
Dear USCIRF Commissioners,
We, the undersigned, are writing to urge you to recommend in your forthcoming Annual Report 2021 that the US Department of State designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), for the rapidly escalating persecution of religious minorities and for the Indian government’s complicity in the massive violations of religious freedom.
In your 2020 Annual Report released last April, you recommended India’s designation as CPC “for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, as defined under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).”
Ever since, the behavior of the Indian federal government, and of several state governments, in enabling such religious freedom violations has spectacularly worsened. Hence, we urge you to continue designating India as a CPC in this year’s report, too. Indeed the reasons for designating India as a CPC are more compelling now by an order of magnitude than ever before, and the situation is set to get worse without significant international pressure.
Last year, the State Department declined to apply CPC status to India on the grounds that the worsening of religious freedom in India was due to non-state actors, as opposed to state actors. We hope that this letter shows that state actors are playing a central role in India’s declining religious freedom, and that the 2021 Annual Report will make this clear.
USCIRF’s 2020 report mentioned the horrific violence against Muslims in India’s capital, New Delhi, that killed at least 50 people in February 2020. In its aftermath, the Delhi Police failed to arrest the Hindu perpetrators who led the violence and instead arrested hundreds of Muslims, accusing them of the anti-Muslim violence.
Investigations by Amnesty India and the Polis Project have confirmed what victims and independent observers have been saying about the Delhi pogrom: that the Delhi Police were themselves complicit and an active participant in that violence. Also, the police failed to rescue the victims and denied them medical services. Amnesty found a pattern of torture and ill-treatment meted out to riot survivors and detainees by the Delhi police after the violence. Yet, the Indian Government has refused to open any investigation into the role of the law enforcement agencies.
Despite an open threat issued by Kapil Mishra, a leader of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Delhi Police have failed to arrest Mishra. When a Delhi judge ordered that he be charged, the judge was transferred overnight. The Supreme Court failed to uphold his order. The police also failed to act against two BJP Members of Parliament, one of them a minister in Mr. Modi’s cabinet, for inciting that violence. Even a court declined to act against the elected officials despite clear evidence.
The persecution of Christians, too, spiked in 2020. According to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Christians suffered 225 incidents of religiously motivated violence in the first ten months of 2020, many at the hands of vigilante mobs. In September, Hindu mobs attacked Christians in three villages in Chhattisgarh state. At least eight incidents were recorded in two weeks after the nationwide lockdown was lifted. These included physical assaults, damage to Christian properties, and threats issued by radical Hindu nationalists. In June, a mob beat up Pastor Suresh Rao in India’s Telangana state while he was praying for a sick person. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India, incidents of violence against Christians rose from 147 in 2014, when Mr. Modi became prime minister, to 328 in 2019.
Finally, Fr. Stan Swamy, one of India’s most celebrated Jesuit leaders, has been imprisoned at the age of 83 and denied bail in spite of suffering from Parkinson’s disease and being arrested on the basis of tampered evidence. Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) has already raised this with Secretary of State Blinken.
Laws Restricting Religious Freedom
USCIRF’s 2020 Report mentioned India’s “anti-conversion” laws as an area of concern. On Mr. Modi’s watch these anti-conversion laws, that have historically targeted Muslims and Christians, have increasingly been deployed to harass and arrest more.
Nearly one in four Indians (23.6%, over 293 million people) now live under recently-passed “love jihad” laws, which target Hindu-Muslim couples. These laws have been passed in the states of Uttar Pradesh (2020), Madhya Pradesh (2020), Uttarakhand (2018), and Himachal Pradesh (2019). That number could increase to almost half of India’s population (47%, over 530 million people). Love jihad laws are being drafted in Karnataka and Assam, and government officials in Gujarat and Haryana have announced their intention to draft similar legislation. The BJP has also added love jihad laws to their campaign platforms in Kerala and West Bengal.
These love jihad laws criminalize marriages between Muslim men and Hindu women, and are based on the baseless conspiracy theory that Muslim men were surreptitiously converting Hindu women to Islam through marriage. After the Uttar Pradesh government passed a love jihad law, the state police arrested 10 Muslims in just one week and accused them of forcing their adult Hindu wives to convert to Islam. The law also mandates that interreligious couples wishing to marry must provide two months’ advance notice to government officials, which would make them vulnerable to attacks from Hindu vigilante groups.
Repression of Peaceful Minority-Led Protests
In Uttar Pradesh (UP), Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who too belongs to the BJP, doubly victimized the largely-Muslim protesters against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), a law that the USCIRF noted discriminated against Muslims by reserving the category of “illegal immigrant” against Muslims alone. After arresting hundreds, including prominent civil rights activists, Mr. Adityanath’s government charged many under the draconian “Gangster Act” and seized the properties of a number of them.
The year 2020 started with the Modi government intensifying its campaign of brutal repression against tens of thousands of Muslims and people of all faiths protesting against the CAA. At the same time, the government failed to hold the police accountable for their brutality against the protesters in December 2019, which had killed more than 50 people.
We have seen similar police brutality during the ongoing farmers protests, which are being led by members of the Sikh community. Additionally, there has been a rise in anti-Sikh rhetoric, including threats of genocidal violence against the Sikh community, with Hindu nationalists calling for a need to “repeat 1984” and protesters being branded as “terrorists” and “anti-nationals.”
Islamophobia and Covid-19
Mr. Modi’s government also allowed the scapegoating of Muslims, including foreigners, blaming them for the spread of the coronavirus. Police across India arrested members of the Tablighi Jamaat on the false charges that they had violated government prohibition on large gatherings and concealed that some of them were infected with the SARS-CoV-2. That this was motivated by Islamophobia became apparent as the courts rejected the prosecution’s case and acquitted the Muslim men citing a lack of evidence.
The Hindu Nationalist Vision of India and the US Government’s Role
There can be no doubt that instead of ending the persecution of India’s religious minorities, Mr. Modi’s administration has doubled down on its resolve to move India closer to becoming a Hindu nation, as desired by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the nearly-a-century-old Hindu supremacist organization to which he belongs.
Indian government’s behavior prompted international concern and disapprobation in 2020. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet moved India’s Supreme Court against the CAA. Ms. Bachelet criticized the Modi government for arresting protesters under stringent anti-terror laws. Last month, the Washington Post wrote that India’s title as a “democracy” was now in question. This past month, Freedom House downgraded India’s democracy from “Free” to “Partly Free”.
Also, India has built numerous detention centers across Assam and in other parts of the country too to hold hundreds of thousands, mostly Muslims, who are being targeted under CAA-NRC with the sole intention of turning them into foreigners in their own country. Already, the government has announced it would start the NRC soon as Covid-19 abates.
We hope that USCIRF will continue to powerfully speak the truth on India and recommend this year, too, that the US Government designate India as a CPC.
1.Hindus for Human Rights
2.Indian American Muslim Council
3.Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America
4.Dalit Solidarity Forum
5.International Christian Concern
6.India Civil Watch International
7.Center for Pluralism