The 2021 report by USCIRF (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) is repackaged to identify India and 12 other countries once again as a Country of Particular Concern (a-CPC) as in 2020. Interestingly, the 2021 report acknowledges that the past year had been “challenging for most nations trying to balance public health concerns alongside the fundamental right to freedom of religion or belief.” Yet the Commissioners had the propensity to produce a new report at the considerable expense of taxpayers’ money which was totally unnecessary. I question why those resources could not be put to better use for helping the COVID-19 affected and distressed people in CPCs rather than reaffirming the label they already had in 2020. I believe that “forgiveness,” even during the devastating pandemic, is not in the character and DNA of most USCIRF Commissioners who I characterize as the “Concerned but Prejudiced Commissioners (the-CPC).”
The readers should note that ‘a-CPC’ is for the country designation and ‘the-CPC’ for the Commissioners in the following.
From my perspective, India’s a-CPC designation in 2020 was based on misconstrued narrative derived from the limited information, data, and facts. I rejected it then and reject it again even more vehemently. Why? First, how could one expect much change in any country including India when the government and citizens were engaged in and concerned with saving lives and livelihood and maintaining health and safety during the pandemic? Secondly, how could USCIRF staff obtain information about violations of religious freedom abroad without visiting places and observing facts on the ground? Under the dire pandemic environment, the possible alternative for USCIRF and the-CPC is to rely on the credibility of media/news, or lack thereof. It is ironic that the-CPC (7 of 9 Commissioners in 2021 are from 2020) had a mindset to produce a replica of 2020, perhaps, to justify their existence, exhibit authority, and unduly interfere in the affairs of other countries.
How hypocritical of USCIRF that while acknowledging the pandemic, the prejudiced commissioners won’t even mention the development of vaccines in India. Didn’t they know India’s generosity of vaccine distribution (~ 66 million) to 80 countries to save millions of human lives of two other major religions- Islam and Christianity? India distributed vaccines, other medicines (even to the U.S. in 2020), and PPEs because of her steadfast belief in Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam (The world is one family) and rising above religion and faith to help save humanity.
The Report maliciously states, “at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, disinformation and hateful rhetoric—including from government officials—often targeted religious minorities, continuing familiar patterns. Disinformation and intolerant content have emboldened intimidation, harassment, and mob violence in recent years, including numerous instances of violence mainly against Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Adivasis, and other religious communities”.
What a blatant distortion of facts while India’s strictest and longest lockdown at the onset of COVID-19 by the government was appreciated globally? The lockdown meant lockdown for EVERYONE irrespective of one’s religion, economic status, and caste. Undoubtedly, it caused unprecedented inconveniences to all and perhaps more to the poor families. The BJP led government, however, assured free distribution of food grains to those families for about 6 months and extraordinary efforts were made to transport and accommodate the returned migrant workers.
Ironically, the religious Muslim leaders were engaged in grossly misguiding their congregations in the mosques not to follow lockdown and not use masks and observe social distancing. As many as 2500 Tablighi were found staying as a congregation in tight quarters against government orders. Many of them traveled across India and hid in the mosques. Hundreds were arrested for violation of visa rules. Talking of intimidation and harassment, the religious heads and Tablighi harassed the officers on duty indiscriminately. India had a serious spread of the virus due to an intentional act by Tablighi in hiding. Clearly, the-CPC only read selective media reports and use what suits their own bias for maligning India’s image. While we can’t deny incidences in India based on religious conflicts between Hindus and Muslims, it is by no means what the USCIRF report purportedly claims. It is the-CPC’s mindset to alienate many peaceful, tolerant, and God-fearing Indians based on their religion by quoting selected incidences.
How sinister is the agenda of the-CPC in stating that religious freedom conditions in India “continued their negative trajectory?” The report squarely puts blame on the government, “led by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), promoting Hindu nationalist policies.” The Report further states about, “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” One must wonder if the pandemic in 2020 was capable of affecting people of one religion different than the other.
The Report particularly notes the passage of the “religiously discriminatory” Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and that there was seeming police complicity in the Delhi riots.” Let it be noted that the riots were allegedly organized and orchestrated under the leadership of a Muslim politician belonging to the Aam Adami Party and those killed included many innocent Hindus and Muslims alike. The CAA is by no means a discriminatory law but fast-tracking the citizenship of religious minorities (e.g. Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Christians). Pakistan specific section in the Report states that these minorities were targets of killings, blasphemy, forced conversion, and hate speech in neighboring Pakistan.
I dare remind the-CPCs of the exemplary history of India welcoming people of every faith for thousands of years let alone discriminating against anyone. The fact also remains that not a single Muslim has lost her/his citizenship in India or has been asked to leave unless they were staying unauthorized in India. Do the Commissioners not know that the U.S. passed a similar provision in the form of the Lautenberg Amendment which enabled citizenship to identified persecuted religious minorities in the erstwhile former Soviet Union? This was further amended to include Christians fleeing Iran. In fact, the U.S. law is far more restrictive to persecuted Christians while India’s CAA includes multiple religions (persecuted Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Parsis who arrived in India on or before December 31, 2014. It also reduces the residency requirement for naturalization from 14 to 11 years). The United States also tracks the so-called “illegal” immigrants, a common global practice.
Interestingly, another incidence selected by the-CPC is the Shaheen Bagh demonstration, an unwarranted and unlawful roadblock of a very busy highway leading to Delhi. This inconvenienced hundreds of thousands of commuters and students for months. The patient BJP led government let it continue and complied with court decisions as needed rather than removing any demonstrator forcibly. It was nothing more than a political rally fueled and funded by the politicians belonging to opposition parties who were unable to defeat BJP in the polls. I was in India and witnessed both the Delhi riots and Shaheen Bagh and I assert that both were organized to disrupt the law and order and create a deeper wedge between Hindus and Muslims. Were the ears of the CPC plugged when a group of people in Shaheen Bagh were calling for dividing India into pieces (India tere tookday tookday)?
In conclusion, the USCIRF has no justifiable authority to interfere and pass judgments on other sovereign nations. I question the motives, knowledge, and understanding of the-CPC about different countries they write about. It is about time that the U.S. government put a greater focus on domestic issues such as racial discrimination, police brutality against a minority population, senseless killing of innocent Asians, Black, and Sikhs in the recent past either by police or the disgruntled individual with a gun and the insurrection on Capitol Hill in January. Is USCIRF aware of anti-Hindu activities in their own homeland, particularly at state institutions like Rutgers? The ongoing discrimination against Asians (including Indians) in college admissions in the U.S. is based on race and religion which nobody wants to admit. Why the-CPC is concerned about faraway lands?
Knowing the-CPC mindset, it is not hard to forecast for the 2022 USCIRF report on India. Most likely a-CPC again with a twisted narrative on the farmers’ agitation and blaming it on BJP led Hindu nationalist government including the insurrection on Red Fort. They will discuss evidence about the few lapses in managing the raging second wave of pandemic and not the endless efforts and mobilizing national resources including the military to save lives. While the post-370 Kashmir is beginning to realize the real development and democracy for all, USCIRF will dig reports to hold BJP responsible for discriminating against Muslims. The Dasna temple priest, a fearless devout Hindu, openly challenging the motives of jihadis may become a lead story too. What they will not talk about is the Khalistan leaders and George Soros funding various anti-India activities in India and abroad.
Finally, a bit of unsolicited advice for the Government of India- set up independent think tanks to prepare well-researched narratives about India’s uncontested democracy, development, and freedom. It yields little to go on the defensive after the Reports by USCIRF, Freedom House, Amnesty International, etc. It is more effective to highlight India’s strengths such as the culture of tolerance and togetherness, young population ready to challenge the world, and the unity in diversity. India’s burgeoning population is an asset because of 1,3 billion brains but India must seriously consider steps to halt further growth. At the risk of being discriminatory against Muslims, the truth be told that Muslim families are bearing many more children than an average Hindu family. As a result, the number of Muslims has grown disproportionally, and Hindu numbers have declined year after year.