A US panel on religious freedom has criticised the BJP-led government on the controversial ‘ghar wapsi’ campaign and said minority communities in India have come under increasing attack since the “religiously-divisive campaigning” during last year’s general elections.
The annual report of The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), released on Thursday, is 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).
The report, however, added that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in support of religious freedom earlier this year “was a positive development”.
The report by the influential panel is likely to irk Hindu outfits which often accuse Christian missionaries of carrying out “forced conversions” and Muslims, too, of luring Hindus in their fold by coercion and deceit. Religious leaders of both the communities deny the charge.
“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.
Pointing out several incidents of attacks on minority communities and their institutions across the country over the past few months, the report cited "police bias" in failing to investigate "sufficiently" and arrest perpetrators of violence.
“Moreover, religious minority communities voice concern that high-ranking BJP members protect or provide support to these groups (involved in the attacks).”
The report cited the anti-conversion laws enacted by several states and also the call of BJP chief Amit Shah for a similar law for the entire country, and said “they create a hostile, and on occasion, violent environment for religious minority communities because they do not require any evidence to support accusations of wrongdoing.”
The report cited data from India’s home ministry to highlighted rising incidents of communal violence in different states and said, “based on these concerns, USCIRF again places India on its Tier 2 list of countries, where it has been since 2009”.
Tier 2 countries include Russia, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Turkey and Cuba. India’s two other neighbours China and Pakistan are in Tier 1, a category which denotes higher religious intolerance.
In its report, the USCIRF mentioned US President Barack Obama’s nudge to India’s leaders on religious freedom during his visit to the country in January this year when he urged the country to not be “splintered along the lines of religious faith” besides noting denial of US visa to then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi over the post-Godhra riots.
The panel also put forward a slew of recommendations to the US government including discussing religious freedom in future bilateral dialogues and “encourage the strengthening of the capacity of state and central police to implement effective measures to prohibit and punish cases of religious violence and protect victims and witnesses”.
The panel also recommended to the US government to urge the Indian government to “publicly rebuke government officials and religious leaders that make derogatory statements about religious communities.”