Washington | A US Congress-established panel has asked the Obama Administration to press the Indian government to publicly rebuke officials and religious leaders who make derogatory remarks about communities and to boost religious freedom standards in the pluralistic country.
The US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its annual report urged the US government to integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateral contacts with India, including the framework of future strategic dialogues, at both the federal and provincial level.
It also recommended to the Obama Administration to encourage the strengthening of the capacity of state and central police to implement effective measures to prohibit and punish cases of religious violence, and protect victims and witnesses.
The panel called upon the US government to increase the attention of the US Embassy in India to issues of religious freedom and related human rights, including through visits by the Ambassador and other officials to areas where communal and religiously-motivated violence has occurred or is likely to occur and meetings with religious communities, local governmental leaders and police.
Encourage the establishment of a programme similar to the ‘Safe Cities’ programme of impartial government officials, interfaith religious leaders, human rights advocates, and legal experts to discuss and recommend actions to promote religious tolerance and understanding, and protect religious minorities from intimidation and violence, the panel said in its set of recommendations to the US government.
The USCIRF also recommended the Obama Administration to urge the Indian government to publicly rebuke government officials and religious leaders that make derogatory statements about religious communities. It asked the Obama Administration to urge India to boost training on human rights and religious freedom standards and practices for the police and judiciary, particularly in states and areas with a history or likelihood of religious and communal violence.
Urge the central Indian government to press States that have adopted anti-conversion laws to repeal or amend them to conform with internationally-recognised human rights standards; make clear US opposition to laws that restrict freedom of thought and association, it said.
The panel also commended Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his recent views on religious freedom in India, the world’s largest democracy with about 1.22 billion people that has a deeply religious, pluralistic society.
In mid-February 2015, at an event honouring Indian Catholic saints, Prime Minister Modi stated publicly, for the first time, that his government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.
This statement is notable given longstanding allegations that, as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, Mr Modi was complicit in anti-Muslim riots in that state, the USCIRF said. No Indian court so far has found Modi guilty of any wrongdoings in the 2002 riots.