US agency says it will hold hearing on religious freedom in Indiatext_fields
Washington: A US government agency that has come in for Indian government's protests on several occasions in the past for its adverse observations on he state of India's religious minorities, has announced that it will hold a hearing on religious freedom in India next week.
The announcement of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) comes on the heels of two successful bilateral meetings between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the US President Joe Biden - the former during the official state visit of Indian Prime Minister to the US capital in June and the second a bilateral meeting in New Delhi in September on the sidelines of the Delhi G-20 summit.
By its own definition on its website, the USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government agency created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) as amended.
USCIRF in its announcement of the meeting said the Congressional hearing is on how the US government can work with the Indian government to address violations.
Fernand de Varennes, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, has been invited to testify before the Commission along with Tariq Ahmed, Foreign Law Specialist, Law Library of Congress; Sarah Yager, Washington Director, Human Rights Watch; Sunita Viswanath, executive director, Hindus for Human Rights and Irfan Nooruddin, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani Professor of Indian Politics at Georgetown University.
Modi’s state visit to Washington, DC, reflects the close bilateral relationship between the United States and India.
“However, over the last decade, the Indian government has enacted and enforced discriminatory policies targeting religious minorities, including anti-conversion laws, cow slaughter laws, legislation granting citizenship preferences based on religion, and restrictions on foreign funding for civil society organisations,” USCIRF said. The report by the agency had been severely criticised by the spokespersons of the Indian government and leaders of the ruling party, the Hindutva-advocating Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“Recent trends include the eruption of violence between Hindus and Muslims in Haryana in July and targeted attacks against Christian and Jewish minorities in Manipur, highlighting the need for new strategies to mitigate violence against religious minorities in India,” it said.
Since 2020, USCIRF has recommended that the US Department of State designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, it said.
“Witnesses will discuss the Indian government’s legal framework and enforcement of discriminatory policies, explain current religious freedom conditions, and offer policy options for the United States to work with India to combat abuses of religious freedom and related human rights in the country,” USCIRF said.
(Based on PTI with minor edits)