A recent United States Commission on International Religious Freedom report, published in April, designated India a “country of particular concern” and recommended that the US government use “targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious rights.” During the release of the report, the vice-chairperson of the USCIRF, Nadine Maenza, said that the deterioration of religious freedoms in India was “perhaps the steepest and most alarming” of all the adverse developments identified around the world. The commission accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government of having “allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity and also engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence.” The report was also critical of the home minister, Amit Shah, for referring to illegal immigrants as “termites” and not taking sufficient action to stop lynchings in the country.
The spokesperson for India’s ministry of external affairs, Anurag Srivastava, rejected the USCIRF report as “biased and tendentious,” and argued that the observations made in it were “neither accurate nor warranted.” He questioned the commission’s “locus standi” in what he said was India’s internal matter, and added that such “comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels.”
The USCIRF plays two key roles. First, it monitors religious-freedom violations throughout the world; second, it makes recommendations to the US government on promoting religious freedom as part of foreign policy, including through the use of sanctions. How these policy recommendations are implemented has varied from case to case. The dramatic increase in violence against minorities in India, especially Muslims, since 2014, the unilateral and unconstitutional revocation of Article 370 in Kashmir, the proposed nationwide implementation of the National Register for Citizens and the passing of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act have all contributed towards the erosion of democratic values, and have posed an existential threat to the country’s minorities.