The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in a recent report, has asked the United States government to declare India, along with 13 other countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China, as Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for religious minorities rights violation. The USCIRF report is quoted to say that India is promoting a Hindu state position contrary to its claim of secularism and religious neutrality.
The release of this report has created ripples across the Indian subcontinent, with people terming the report as incredulous and an attempt to tarnish India's image. The report alleges the Indian government of creating an environment in the country unfavorable to the minorities and systemizing an idea of a Hindu State. The information containing many more such allegations has been submitted to the United States government.
Background and History
The USCIRF was founded in 1998 when International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) was brought into place by the United States Legislature. The primary objective of the act (IRFA) was to get the protection of minority religious rights into one of the primary foreign policy focuses of the United States. Since its very early days, USCIRF has been subject to international scrutiny as its actions, investigations, and reports have been seen as an infringement upon the sovereignty of nations and a hindrance to independent policy formulation.
The dissatisfaction and feud between India-USA regarding reports of USCIRF is nothing new. The Indian government has always questioned the pith and substance of its reports. The opposition to its recommendations and allegations has been a matter for both Congress and BJP governments.
Traditionally, India has never subscribed to the views of USCIRF, and the clash has led to their members being denied a visa into India for ten years now. Time and again, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has termed USCIRF's reports as a bid to poison India-USA ties. He has asked Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations during their respective tenures to outrightly reject the reports as it was made purely out of biases and vested interests, with no regard to the actual state of affairs in India.
The allegations, attributions, and facts have always been a subjective domain in credibility. With the incoming of right-wing politics into India, the hyper-nationalism sentiment has led to a clash between the MEA and USCIRF by outrightly bashing its activities as biased and fuelled by vested interests over accurate facts.
The stand of India has gained support from many organizations, governments, and entities alike from across the world. On a separate note, many voices against the bias of USCIRF have been voiced from inside the USA. Once, the chairman of USCIRF, Tenzin Dorjee, had expressed his concern with the report targeting India and asking for India to be listed as CPC. He had pointed out bias against India in the information and stated that India is a pluralist country with an open and accessible environment for all religions. Some isolated and sporadic incidents cannot form the basis of India to be designated as CPC, while incidents against the majority community are blatantly labeled as "accidents" and "misfortunes."
Analysis of USCIRF Claims
The validity of USCIRF's report can be contested on the very basis of the data sources. The data sources are majorly internet searches and pieces of media houses; the integrity of both can be questioned given the state of affairs in Indian media. Secondly, the information was derived from parliamentary proceedings. All the factors and statistics quoted were from citations by the opposition members and hence could be a bone of contention. Further, the report comes in when the United States continuously tries to sway India into their support for the Russia-Ukraine crisis. In contrast, India constantly reminds the world of its independence in deciding its foreign policy actions.
Hence, the report might also be an instrument of using fear psychosis to sway India towards the west. Given that in the Indian Ocean region, China is a source of competition, labor, and bitter relations, hence expansionary foreign policy has to have a different political power to play and hence India. Additionally, historical precedents against the report remain solid as the organization of the Godhra train burnings as an "accident." On some occasions, the organizations even tried to justify the murder of a prominent Hindu scholar and cleric, Swami Lakshamananda.
Whereas exercises of the National Register of Citizens being held in Assam and the passing of the Citizenship act were deemed dubious and measures to "oppress" minority communities. Such incidents prove the bias of USCIRF towards India, and the ideological conclaves of such international organizations indeed need to change. The presence of Indophobic and Hinduphobic elements in such organizations could be severely detrimental to the global public image of India, along with weakening ties with the United States.
Additionally, USCIRF must look at the internal affair of human rights in the United states, where extensive oppression of minorities is taking place, from strip searching of black people to vandalism of Muslim school in Long Island, there is a severe need of introspection before the organization comes out blaming others.
Stand of Ministry of External Affairs
To the recent report, the MEA has replied aggressively and reaffirmed the world of India's stand on the issue. The spokesperson of the MEA stated that India has a robust public discourse and constitutionally mandated institutions that guarantee the protection of religious freedom and the rule of law. The spokesperson's words made it very clear that the constitution, irrespective of the government's ideology, is there to protect the interests of the citizens, and the constitution safeguards their rights.
Additionally, the spokesperson said that the MEA believes that no external entity has a locus standi in domestic citizen's rights issues. The statement indirectly asked the US government not to interfere in India's domestic matters as these would be considered an infringement upon the nation's sovereignty. The MEA also alleged biases and vested interests in the report and called out USCIRF again for its activities against India.
Concludingly, the USCIRF and other international religious rights organizations must have an authenticity of evidence for research and must not be skeptical. Further, if any remarks are made against a sovereign country, they must be unbiased and free of all vested interests. Also, this must be a lesson to the opposition on how to present themselves during a debate, as their statements might be used against the country itself.
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