India on Friday sternly told a US body which has for long acted as a watchdog on religious freedom around the world that it has no “locus standi” to either comment on or judge the country.
Responding to a statement issued by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom complaining its members were denied visas to visit India, the Indian embassy here said: “We do not see the locus standi of a foreign entity like USCIRF to pass its judgment and comment on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.”
The USCIRF, which describes itself as an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission, wanted to send a team to India to, as it said in its statement, “discuss and assess religious freedom conditions in that nation”.
It said the team, scheduled to leave for India on March 4, had the support of the US state department and the US embassy in India.
“We are deeply disappointed by the Indian government’s denial, in effect, of these visas,” said USCIRF chairman Robert P George in the statement. “As a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit.”
The USCIRF has been critical of India on religious freedom and said in its 2015 annual report, “Since the election (of 2014), religious minority communities have been subject to derogatory comments by politicians linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).”
New Delhi typically ignores these reports, which, by the commission’s brief, are meant as a resource for the US President, state department and Congress.
But it felt compelled to react after the body issued a statement complaining about the refusal of visas to the delegation planning to visit India.
“There is no change in the policy of the Government of India with respect to such visits,” the embassy said in its statement. “India is a vibrant pluralistic society founded on strong democratic principles. The Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens including the right to freedom of religion.”
Questioning USCIRF’s status, the embassy said India will continue to work with the US government “for sharing of experience and best practice on all issues of mutual interest under the established bilateral mechanisms like the India-United States Global Issues Forum”, which meets annually around the bilateral strategic dialogue.