India reacted sharply on Thursday to a report by a US Congress-established panel that claimed minorities in the country were subjected to "violent attacks" and "forced conversions" after the Narendra Modi government assumed power in 2014.
External affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, "Our attention has been drawn to a report of the USCIRF which has passed judgement on religious freedom in India."
"The report appears to be based on limited understanding of India, its constitution and its society," he said, asserting the government did not take cognisance of such reports.
In the past, India mostly took a position that the USCIRF report was an internal one, which is part of US legislative practices. But New Delhi came out with a reaction as the report appeared scathing this time too.
In its annual report released on Thursday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) was highly critical of Hindu right-wing organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), considered the ideological mentor of the ruling BJP, and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).
It criticised the BJP-led government on the controversial ‘ghar wapsi (homecoming)’ campaign, saying minority communities in India had come under increasing attack since the “religiously-divisive campaigning” during last year’s general elections.
"Since the election, religious minority communities have been subject to derogatory comments by politicians linked to the ruling BJP and numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups, such as RSS and VHP,” the report said.
US President Barack Obama, during his recent visit, had pitched for religious freedom and said, "Every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear of discrimination."
The USCIRF report, however, added that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in support of religious freedom earlier this year “was a positive development”.
After Obama's visit, Modi had pledged to uphold freedom of faith and crack down on inciters of sectarian tensions, in comments viewed as condemnation of a spate of forced religious conversions by hardline Hindu groups.
The USCIRF report highlighted as “positive development” Modi’s February statement that “his 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”.
In a nod to its earlier position on Modi, the report said this statement was “notable” given longstanding allegations against the former Gujarat chief minister over the 2002 riots.
The panel, however, had many harsh observations on the BJP, the RSS and the VHP.
“Members of the RSS allegedly tricked dozens of Muslims families into attending a meeting by telling them they would be provided financial help, but instead a Hindu religious leader performed a Hindu conversion ceremony,” the report said.