Checks and Balance: With Sweta Ranjan, experts discuss why the US is bracketing India with Pakistan and North Korea on civil rights of minorities
GN Bureau | May 3, 2022
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its 2022 Annual report, has recommended to the US State Department that India be designated a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC), i.e., the category of governments where religious freedom has worsened. The report states that the 15 countries are designated as such “because their governments engage in or tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations”.
The other countries under this category are Afghanistan, Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. The report said, “During the year, the Indian government escalated its promotion and enforcement of policies - including those promoting a Hindu-nationalist agenda - that negatively affects Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and other religious minorities."
The latest edition of ‘Checks and Balances’, an online discussion with experts on governance challenges hosted by Sweta Ranjan, raises some questions about the placement of India as a country where religious freedom is diminished. What is the motive behind questioning India’s democratic, liberal and secular credentials?
Watch the episode here:
Joining the discussion, Dr. Ratan Sharda, an author and a political analyst, rebuts the claim that the current Indian government is moving ahead with any 'Hindu-Rashtra' agenda. Dr. Sharda calls it a completely biased report. “For many years they have been acting biased. The reports are completely based on assumptions. Basically they want to propagate the freedom to convert. If they feel there is a hindrance, they will malign the nation.”
Talking about the claim made in the report about the Modi government muzzling dissenting voices, Dr. Sharda said, "The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is in each country, even America has it. It is a baseless claim about NRC that the government is trying to disenfranchise Indian Muslims. India's Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was not about any Indian Muslim; that was for outsiders. This law is to give citizenship to refugees who have been religiously persecuted from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.”
The report claims, “The UAPA and Sedition Law have been invoked to create an increasing climate of intimidation and fear in an effort to silence anyone speaking out against the government. Father Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old Jesuit priest and longtime human rights defender of Adivasis, Dalits, and other marginalised communities, was arrested on dubious UAPA charges in October 2020 and never tried. He died in custody in July 2021 despite repeated concerns raised about his health.”
Dr. Sharda called the statement about Stan Swamy ironic. “Stan Swamy was an urban naxal. For terror links he was sent to jail and was denied bail by the court. He died in the hospital, not in custody. Those trying to bring India on the same pedestal with Pakistan and Afghanistan are insane.”
Senior journalist Onkareshwar Pandey said, "The report should be based on facts. It is not reasonable to compare India with Afghanistan or Pakistan. India never gave shelter to anyone like Osama Bin Laden. Government in India doesn't fund or support any terror activities. The Indian government, like China, has never oppressed its religious minorities.”
He added, “In recent times we have seen a striking awareness about Hindutva in India which has given rise to vigilantism. This has resulted in many untoward incidents. India has its law and order in place, courts are doing their job. In society there are a lot of misconceptions about CAA, NRC or Article 370. On the other hand, in some fragments of society a brewing can be felt. This is a matter of worry... But for this WhatsApp university is more to be blamed for poisoning the society."
Deepam Chatterjee, a renowned author, who has extensively written on mythological and religious subjects, questions the credibility of USCIRF: “Why are they acting like a watchdog? Who are they to tell us what we should do and what we should not? India is one of the top countries with high Muslim population. We are in no way suppressing the minorities here. We all know that in Pakistan, Hindus are not safe. But this issue has taken a bigger shape as the USA needs a target after its embarrassing exit from Afghanistan. It is all being done by America to create a space geo-politically. India is a soft target and Hinduism is a softer target. When they are not able to attack Islam, they are attacking Hinduism.”
The expert panel pointed out this report as a conspiracy to malign and destabilise the Modi government. A look at the census clearly states that neither Islam nor any other religion is under attack in India. The census data suggests that in India, the Muslim population has increased from about 10 percent at the time of Independence to 14.2 percent whereas in Pakistan, the Hindu population has declined from 12.9 percent in 1947 to 1.9 percent today.
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