NEW DELHI – The government has expressed its displeasure to the US Congress by denying visa to members of its advisory panel which has raised concerns over religious freedom in India.
“We have denied visa to USCIRF teams that have sought to visit India in connection with issues related to religious freedom, as we do not see the locus standi of a foreign entity like USCIRF to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights,” Indian Express quoted External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in a June 1 letter to BJP MP Nishikant Dubey. [https://indianexpress.com/article/india/s-jaishankar-religious-freedom-uscirf-team-visas-denied-6453261/]
USCIRF, or United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), had in April recommended to the US administration that India be designated a “country of particular concern”.
It was the first time since 2004 — when its recommendation came against the backdrop of the Gujarat riots in 2002 — that the USCIRF had sought this. The USCIRF’s annual report had also named Home Minister Amit Shah twice, once recalling that he had referred to migrants as “termites” to be eradicated.
The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission established in 1998 under the International Religious Freedom Act.
It monitors freedom of religion across the world except in the US. Of the nine commissioners, three are appointed by the US president, two by the leader of US president’s party and four by the leader of Opposition in the Congress.
USCIRF’s views are not meant to represent the opinion of the US administration or the US Congress. But reports issued by the panel are globally respected.
Jaishankar informed the BJP MP that the MEA had already rejected the USCIRF’s statements as “inaccurate and unwarranted”. He said India “will not accept any external interference or pronouncement on matters related to our sovereignty and the fundamental rights of our citizens that are guaranteed by the Constitution”.
In its report in April, the USCIRF had said religious freedom in India had seen a “drastic turn downward”, with religious minorities under “increasing assault” in 2019, and talked of “rising Islamophobia”.
It cited the CAA-NRC issue, the scrapping of special status of Jammu and Kashmir and the Delhi riots in February. The USCIRF said the CAA and NPR moves were first steps towards a national NRC.
The report observed that the situation in “India took a sharp downward turn in 2019. The national government used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute nation-level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially Muslims”.
The report also took note of the UP chief minister’s call for “revenge” against anti-CAA protesters and his remark that the protesters should be fed “bullets not biryani”. It also mentioned the Babri Masjid verdict as one encouraging a “culture of impunity” for those who demolish religious places and harass minorities.
The USCIRF recommended that the Trump administration “impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States… citing specific religious freedom violations”.
“For true nationalists, international prestige of the country is more important than winning elections. For them, it is painful to see our great country being clubbed together with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and China on the question of religious freedom,” observed academic and legal scholar Faizan Mustafa in an opinion piece recently. [https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/uscirf-report-on-religious-freedom-in-india-anti-caa-protests-gujarat-northeast-delhi-riots-6436322/]