Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposed bilateral meeting with US President Barrack Obama and an address to a joint session of the US Congress early next month, India on Tuesday snubbed Washington for its annual international religious freedom report.The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which works along the State Department, in its 2016 report has slammed India over rise of intolerance in the country in 2015, even naming top BJP faces, including party president Amit Shah, MPs Yogi Aditya Nath and Sakshi Maharaj, for allegedly using religiously divisive language to further inflame tensions. The report has come more heavily against neighboring Pakistan, even recommending the US Administration to designate Pakistan as Country of Particular Concern (CPC) along with Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. “In Pakistan, the government continued to perpetuate and tolerate systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Responding to the findings of report, spokesperson of ministry of external affairs Vikas Swarup asserted that “we see no locus standi for the report” as the US Commission “once again fails to show proper understanding of India, its Constitution and its society.”In a rejoinder to the USCIRF report, he said: “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.” He further stated that there was no locus standi for a foreign entity like USCIRF to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights. “We take no cognizance of their report,” Swarup added.The report claimed that minorities especially Christians, Muslims and Sikhs have experienced numerious incidents of intimidation, harassment and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups, tacitly supported by the ruling BJP. While reporting 17% rise in communal violence in India in 2015, as compared to previous year, quoting Union Home Ministry documents, the US report attributed this to “religiously-divisive campaigning” in the 2014 general elections and the BJP’s victory in that elections. It has also mentioned restrictions on cow slaughter and killing of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri as well as Zahid Rasool Bhat, who was set ablaze for allegedly transporting cows.Expressing concern about reports of Ghar Wapasi and the reported misuse of anti-conversion law, the report said: “In 2015, high-ranking members of the ruling BJP party, including the party’s president Amit Shah, called for a nationwide anti-conversion law”.”High ranking BJP parliamentarians, such as Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj, reportedly called for laws to control the Muslim population. In a February 2015 video of a Sangh Parivar meeting, participants called for ‘cornering Muslims and destroying the demons’. Several BJP state and national political leaders are visible in the video, some of them sitting on the dais. Muslims indicate that they rarely report abuses because of societal and police bias, and police intimidation by the RSS,” the report said.More worrisome, the Commission has recommended Washington to integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateral contacts with India, including the framework of future Strategic Dialogue. It has also asked for increasing the US Embassy’s attention to issues of religious freedom and related human rights, including through visits by the ambassadors and other officials or areas where communal and religiously motivated violence has occurred. Further to press New Delhi to allow USCIRF to visit the country and urge the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom or Belief to visit India.
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