Written By: Akshat Sharma, First Year Student, NLU Nagpur (India)
USCIRF (UNITED STATES COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM) was founded in 1998 by enforcing International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). Its commissioners are elected by the president and congressional leaders of both the political parties. The main objective of this organization is to provide policy recommendations for the congress. It annually releases the reports for designating the countries of particular concern. It uses international standards for making reports.
Every year it releases a report on the 1st of May. In 2020 also, the annual report was released.
In this report, India was designated as the “country of particular concern.” India is home to many religions with a large population and also the largest democracy in the world. Placing India in such a list is a direct question to the secularism ensured by the Constitution of India and the sovereignty of the country.
Annual Report 2020 bases its claim mainly on the NRC in Assam, Cow slaughter laws, Anti-conversion laws, Abrogation of article 370, and the Citizenship Amendment Act.
The claims and the base for the same do not hold ground in if looked upon impartially. The image that some fringe groups trying to create about the present government is not hidden at all. Spreading misinformation regarding the same, which results in the institutionalization of such misinformation.
NRC in Assam is promised in an accord signed by then central govt in 1985, and the present govt is enforcing the same. The supreme court ordered the previous government, but they didn’t act upon it, viewing the general elections. Now the central government is enforcing the apex court order to ensure NRC in Assam, which is being seen as an attempt to curb religious freedom. The constitution of India ensures freedom of religion to all the people, including the foreigners, but it comes with an exception that it should be subject to public law and order.
The State of Assam has a history of reported illegal migration from the neighboring countries with which it shares porous borders. Illegal immigration poses the threat of cross border terrorism and sharing already scarce resources, so it is a grave public law and order situation, and the exception of public law and order is valid here.
India is a diverse country in which many religions co-exists peacefully. The followers of Hinduism are highest in number, who consider the cow a sacred animal. In the religious scriptures of Hinduism, the cow is considered to be sacred, and its slaughter is considered as grave and heinous crime. On the other hand, there is no proof that eating beef is an essential practice of their religion, without which they cannot profess their religion.
But in some states, there are some tribal groups where the beef-eating is part of their culture, and in those areas, cow slaughter has not been enforced. There is no blanket ban by the central government on the cow slaughter. It has been left upon the legislative assembly to take a call on that. There are more than seven states where there is no restriction on cow slaughter. The union government has been trying to find a balance between the restrictions and the freedom of religion guaranteed by the constitution.
Anti-conversion laws are the law and order decisions of the state governments. There have been reports of conversion through allurement, force, or fraud. So the anti-conversion act works as a deterrent against the so-called conversion mission. The argument of religious freedom being curbed by the government also falls flat here with no logical backing, and no data supporting the claims in the report has been mentioned that after these laws were enforced, arrests of Muslims and missionaries increased.
The abrogation of article 370 is a measure to ensure economic prosperity, curb militancy, and put an end to terrorism. Due to Article 370, union laws had no currency in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, only the laws made by the legislative assembly had value. The system that existed before the article 370 had a huge difference between the other states and the Jammu and Kashmir in relation to the federal structure.
The constitution has given the power to the union government to do the amendments as required by time to time. Article 370 has been removed with the procedure established by law. The report considers the restriction on the movement with the motive of trying to curb the religious freedom of the population which is baseless as the many govt report shows that there have been many deadly attacks on the police and military personnel. This move is to maintain peace and for the security of the people.
In neighboring countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, persecution of minorities is not a new issue. The CAA 2019 tries to pacify the situation for these minorities by easing the citizenship requirements in India. The citizenship requirements for the Muslim population have the same requirements as they were earlier. All the rights of the Muslims living in India are intact. No right has been undermined, as claimed in the report. Still, if there is dissent, it is welcomed in India as in any other democracy, and the months’ long protests against the CAA 2019 is a proof of that.
All the arguments made in the report in support of moving India in the list of “country of particular concern” falls flat. No shred of evidence shows that religious freedom is being curbed. This shows the hypocrisy of the USCIRF to blame the country like India when the USA is banning the citizens from the Muslim dominated states. The reason given by American govt is the threat of terror attacks, which is valid, and with the same reasoning when India tries to control its law and order results in the curbing of religious freedom.
The reports like these are a direct attempt to interfere in the internal matters of the country. This will not be good for both the countries as the consequences would be on bilateral ties. The colonial mindset and hypocrisy should not be reflected in the actions of the US departments, and the report should be rejected as concerned with the part of India.