A U.S. government panel on Tuesday called for India to be put on a religious freedom blacklist over the "drastic" downturn the country has experienced in respect for the country's Muslims under the rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The call has received a sharp rebuttal from New Delhi.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommends but does not set policy, and there is virtually no chance the State Department will follow its lead on India, an increasingly close U.S. ally.
As part of its annual report, the bipartisan panel said that India should join the ranks of "countries of particular concern" that would be subject to sanctions if they did not improve their records.
"In 2019, religious freedom conditions in India experienced a drastic turn downward, with religious minorities under increasing assault," the report said. It called on the United States to impose punitive measures, including visa bans, on Indian officials believed responsible and grant funding to civil society groups that monitor hate speech.
The commission said that Modi's Hindu nationalist government, which won a convincing election victory last year, "allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity, and also engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence." It pointed to comments by Home Minister Amit Shah, who notoriously referred to Muslim migrants as "termites," and to a citizenship law that has triggered nationwide protests.
The panel also highlighted the revocation of the autonomy of Kashmir, which was India's only Muslim-majority state, while alleging that Delhi police had turned a blind eye to mobs who attacked Muslim neighborhoods in February this year.
The Indian government, which has long been irritated by the commission's comments, quickly rejected the report.
"Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this new occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels," foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said. "We regard it as an organization of particular concern and will treat it accordingly," he said in a statement.
The State Department has designated nine "countries of particular concern" in terms of religious freedom – China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
Pakistan, India's historic rival, was added by the State Department in 2018 after years of appeals by the commission, which was appalled by attacks on minorities and abuse of blasphemy laws.
In its latest report, the commission asked that all nine countries remain on the list. In addition to India, it sought the inclusion of four more – Nigeria, Russia, Syria and Vietnam.