New Delhi, June 23, 2019: India on June 23 rejected a US religious freedom report, saying it sees no locus standi for a foreign government to pronounce on the state of its citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.
In its annual 2018 International Religious Freedom Report two days ago, the State Department alleged that mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, particularly Muslims, continued in India in 2018, amid rumors that victims had traded or killed cows for beef.
Responding to media queries on the report, ministry of external affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said: “India is proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion.”
The Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens, including its minority communities, he said.
It is widely acknowledged that India is a vibrant democracy where the Constitution provides protection of religious freedom, and where democratic governance and rule of law further promote and protect fundamental rights, Kumar asserted.
“We see no locus standi for a foreign entity/government to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights,” he said.
Mandated by the US Congress, the state department in its voluminous report gives its assessment of the status of religious freedom in almost all the countries and territories of the world.
Releasing the report at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the state department, secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the report was like a report card which tracks countries to see how well they have respected this fundamental human right.
The Report on International Freedom consists of country-wise chapters, with the chapter on India detailing and discussing mob-related violence, religious conversion, the legal status of minorities and government policies.
The U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo released the State Department’s 2019 Report on International Freedom, an annual submission it makes to the Congress each year, as mandated by law.
“This mission is not just a Trump administration priority – it’s a deeply personal one. For many years, I was a Sunday school teacher and a deacon at my church,” Pompeo said. “And that might sound unusual to a lot of folks inside the Beltway [ i.e., Washington DC] . But I am one of millions of Americans, and billions of people across the world, who live in the knowledge of a higher power,” he added.
Pompeo gave examples of religious persecution during his speech – Asia Bibi in Pakistan, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and others.
“I had a chance to meet with some Uighurs here, but unfortunately, most Chinese Uighurs don’t get a chance to tell their stories. That’s why, in an effort to document the staggering scope of religious freedom abuses in Xinjiang, we’ve added a special section to this year’s China report,” Pompeo said.
The report says that India’s Central and State governments as well as parties took steps to affect Muslim practices and institutions.
“The government continued its challenge in the Supreme Court to the minority status of Muslim educational institutions, which affords them independence in hiring and curriculum decisions. Proposals to rename Indian cities with Muslim provenance continued, most notably the renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj. Activists said these proposals were designed to erase Muslim contributions to Indian history and had led to increased communal tensions,” the report says.
“There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism, and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytize,” the report says.
“Authorities often failed to prosecute perpetrators of ‘cow vigilante’ attacks, which included killings, mob violence, and intimidation,” it added.
The report goes on to say, “There were reports by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that the government sometimes failed to act on mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalized communities, and critics of the government. Some senior officials of the Hindu-majority Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made inflammatory speeches against minority communities… According to some NGOs, authorities often protected perpetrators from prosecution. As of November, there were 18 such attacks, and eight people [were] killed during the year.”
The report notes that the Supreme Court said cow vigilantism is unacceptable and asked States to take steps to prevent it.
The country chapter in the report are prepared by U.S. embassies based on information gathered from government officials, academics, media, journalists, NGOs, human rights monitors, etc. The State Department website says the views “of any particular source are not necessarily those of the United States government.”