US federal entity plans hearing on religious freedom in India; levels allegation of ‘discriminatory policies’

The US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has announced it will hold a hearing on religious freedom in India next week. It has also levelled the allegation of “discriminatory policies targeting religious minorities” ahead of this planned hearing.

One of the recent minority-related controversies in India was the ban on burkha, niqab, hijab etc in educational institutions in the southern state of Karnataka. Photo courtesy: Muslim Mirror

This announcement follows two successful recent bilateral meetings between Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and President of the United States Joe Biden — the official State Visit of the Indian leader to the US in June and a bilateral meeting in New Delhi within the G20 Summit in India in September.

The USCIRF is a federal government entity. “[It] is an independent, bipartisan US federal government agency created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), as amended,” said its website. “[The] USCIRF monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) abroad; makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress; and tracks the implementation of these recommendations.”

Making the announcement, the Commission said that its Congressional hearing would be on how the US government could work with the Indian government to address violations.

President Biden and Prime Minister Modi met recently for the G20 Summit in India. Photo courtesy: X/@narendramodi

Fernand de Varennes, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, has been invited to testify before the Commission, along with Tariq Ahmed, Foreign Law Specialist, Law Library of Congress; Sarah Yager, Washington Director, Human Rights Watch; Sunita Viswanath, Executive Director, Hindus for Human Rights; and Irfan Nooruddin, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani Professor of Indian Politics at Georgetown University.

The Commission alleged that “over the last decade, the Indian government has enacted and enforced discriminatory policies targeting religious minorities, including anti-conversion laws, cow slaughter laws, legislation granting citizenship preferences based on religion, and restrictions on foreign funding for civil society organisations”.

It added, “Recent trends include the eruption of violence between Hindus and Muslims in Haryana in July and targeted attacks against Christian and Jewish minorities in Manipur, highlighting the need for new strategies to mitigate violence against religious minorities in India.”

Since 2020, the USCIRF had recommended that the US Department of State designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) “for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom”, said the Commission.

“Witnesses will discuss the Indian government’s legal framework and enforcement of discriminatory policies, explain current religious freedom conditions, and offer policy options for the United States to work with India to combat abuses of religious freedom and related human rights in the country,” said the USCIRF.