The Manmohan Singh government has again denied visas to members of the US religious freedom panel to discuss religious freedom in India and measures to counter communal violence, prompting the panel to criticise New Delhi’s refusal.
“India joins Cuba as the only other nation to have refused all USCIRF requests to visit,” the commission said in a statement released in Washington on Thursday.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has been trying to visit India since 2001.
“Our Commission has visited China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and over 20 other countries. India, a close ally of the United States, has been unique among democracies in delaying and denying USCIRF’s ability to visit,” said Commission chair Felice D. Gaer.
The aim of the long-requested trip was to discuss religious freedom conditions in India, home to a multitude of religious communities that have historically co-existed.
India has experienced an increase in communal violence against religious communities in recent years and the USCIRF Commissioners sought to discuss the Indian government’s responses to this, and its development of preventive strategies at the local and national levels.
Indian officials have for long bristled at foreign organisations “government or non-government like Amnesty Internationa” seeking to protect rights of Indian citizens in the country and viewed actions by US government bodies as unnecessary interference.
In 2002, USCIRF had designated India as a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)” following the Gujarat riots, bracketing India along with countries like Sudan, China and Nigeria.
The CPC tag gives the administration under US law, International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, to begin focused diplomatic activity.
This year’s India section of its annual report was delayed because of the planned USCIRF trip.
“We wanted to hear from all sectors of Indian society, and allow these diverse perspectives to shape our report,” said Gaer. The commission will now release its report on India later this summer.