The sanctimonious tone of the report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reflects the hypocrisy and double standards of a country that ignores its own ugly underbelly while giving sermons to other countries on how to conduct themselves. The report downgrades India’s position and places it alongside Pakistan, China and North Korea in terms of religious freedom. This is totally biased, exhibiting a new level of misrepresentation. This is the first time India has been placed in this category since 2004. What is more baffling is that the commission has recommended that the State Department designate India as a “country of particular concern” (CPC), a status it says is reserved for “the worst of the worst”. Thirteen other countries have that status, including Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The commission called on the Trump administration to impose sanctions on “Indian government agencies responsible for severe violations of religious freedom,” given its treatment of religious minorities, including Christians and Muslims. This is as tendentious and as irresponsible as it can get. If foreign countries and institutions start preparing damning reports on India based on observations or perceptions of some individuals, they are bound to be questioned. New Delhi has rightly dismissed the report as tendentious and biased. India is respected the world over for its vibrant media, independent judiciary and a vociferous opposition. This is a country where every citizen vows by the Constitution and nothing is done or can be done that would undermine the spirit of the Constitution.
Significantly, the congressionally-mandated commission has mainly based its annual report on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) enacted last year and the proposed National Register of Citizens and said they were discriminatory against Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The commission also accused the BJP leadership of having “allowed violence against minorities to continue with impunity”. However, it must be pointed out that despite several flaws and aberrations, India remains a democratic, secular, open and liberal society. All laws are duly passed by Parliament after discussion and debate and following due procedures. In fact, the CAA has been challenged openly by the opposition parties, lawmakers, civil society groups and ordinary citizens. The country has a self-correcting mechanism where public debate shapes government’s policies. It would be preposterous to club India in the same category as authoritarian regimes like China and North Korea. This does not, however, mean that the country is free from social and political problems. But, it is capable of resolving them in the interests of strengthening the core values of secularism and diversity. Upholding the rule of law and ensuring communal harmony are essential for any functioning democracy.
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