America’s misplaced sense of moral superiority comes out in full glory in its report on International Religious Freedom, which paints a picture of lawlessness in India. The US State Department’s annual report has made some highly mischievous and erroneous observations while pontificating on the situation in India. Its suggestion that the rights of minorities are in danger is misleading and far from the truth. The report represents a classic case of statistical sleight of hand where the data is cherry-picked to drive a motivated narrative. Basing its conclusions on the claims made by NGOs and selective official data, the 2018 report gives an impression as if India is some primitive land where violent mobs roam the roads freely and the Christian missionaries are targeted and persecuted. The fact that the report highlights anti-conversion laws in India raises suspicion about the motive of its authors. The premise of the report is based on an assumption that banning religious conversion violates religious freedom. This is a problematic concept in a diverse society like India where an overwhelming majority of population practices Hinduism, a non-proselytising religion. India is proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion. The Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens, including minorities. It is widely acknowledged that India is a vibrant democracy, where the Constitution provides protection of religious freedom and where democratic governance and rule of law further promote and protect the fundamental rights.
Dubbing an entire nation as intolerant based on some specific incidents of crime, however horrific they may be, is uncalled for. It is curious that while Washington judges every other country in the world and blurts out patronising sermons, the State Department report is silent on the status of religious freedom at home. The US would have done well to subject its own record of religious intolerance and hate crimes to the perception of others. While no foreign country has locus standi to pass judgment on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights, it doesn’t mean that we should be impervious to criticism and honest introspection about the state of affairs. Every right thinking citizen of this country, which has civilisational history embedded in plurality, must be worried over the growing instances of cow vigilantism. Such heinous crimes undermine the core values of tolerance, diversity and peaceful co-existence for which India is widely respected. It would be a grave threat to the country’s secular fabric if a group of individuals or organisations is allowed to take law into its own hands in the name of protecting religious interests. Vigilantism in any form is anathema to democracy and free society.