A US report on religious freedom around the world in 2015, released on Wednesday, took note of the returning of state awards by Indian filmmakers and authors protesting growing intolerance.
The report, an annual exercise by the state department, also noted “reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, coerced religious conversions, actions restricting the right of individuals to change religious beliefs, discrimination, and vandalism”.
It was in this context that the report noted the return of awards in 2015: “Several well-known authors, filmmakers, and other civil society members returned national and state-sponsored awards to protest what they said was the growing religious and cultural intolerance in the country.”
This is the first time that the state department has commented on the status of religious freedom in India with a full year under the Narendra Modi government.
The report also cited PM Modi’s speech in February on what the government was doing to address the issue: “My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.”
“On several occasions, such as at a meeting in February with Christians in New Delhi, Prime Minister Modi publicly stated he would defend religious freedom,” the state department said in its report which documents the allegations of violence against the Christian community in various parts of the country including Punjab.
“Christians who reported that they were victims of religiously-motivated violence or other animus voiced concern about the lack of police action against such incidents, as well as of hostility by the police towards Christians.
“According to the All India Christian Council and the Evangelical Fellowship of India, police resisted filing criminal complaints and had in several instances threatened falsely to incriminate the victims,” said the report.
But at the release of the report at the state department, officials faced questions about growing intolerance in the US itself, specially in light of the remarks and comments from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
The US is outside the purview of the report, a state department official said, adding the administration had addressed concerns raised by Trump’s remarks.
President Barack Obama has been scathing in his criticism of Trump’s call, for instance, to temporarily suspend immigration from areas of the world impacted by terrorism, mostly Muslim-majority countries.
The state department report’s section on India cited instances and incidents of religion-related violence and discrimination based on local news reports.
And, it added, US officials at all levels, starting at the president, had engaged their Indian counterparts and “underscored the importance of religious freedom throughout the year”.
(With inputs from agencies)