India has strongly rebutted charges by a U.S. Commission that religious freedom is on a “negative trajectory” in the country.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently released a report saying “religious tolerance deteriorated and religious freedom violations increased in India" in 2015.
India’s Foreign Ministry said it would take no notice of the report, which it said “fails to show a proper understanding of India, its society and its constitution.”
"India is a vibrant pluralistic society founded on strong democratic principles. The Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens including the right to freedom of religion,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup.
The USCIRF report had said India’s minority communities, especially Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups.
It accused members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of tacitly supporting these groups and using religiously-divisive language to further inflame tensions.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to office in mid-2014, there have been concerns that politicians or hardline groups linked to his Hindu nationalist party are fueling sectarian tensions.
New Delhi-based independent political analyst Neerja Chowdhury said although the BJP has distanced itself from such “extreme” voices, there is a sense of insecurity among minorities. “The mainline BJP has dismissed them as not representing the mainstream view, they say they are individual voices, but they are also people who are part of the government. And then with these voices insisting what is good for you to eat, what is good for you to wear, what are the slogans you should raise, all this put together is not a very conducive climate,” she said.
In the last year and a half, some states have banned beef, as Hindus consider the cow to be holy and there have been sporadic incidents of stone-throwing at churches.
In one of the worst incidents, a Muslim man was killed by a mob last September in a New Delhi neighborhood on suspicion that he ate beef. The government has described such incidents as “aberrations” and promised strong action.
Earlier this year, the Indian government refused visas to USCIRF members who wanted to visit India to study religious freedom, saying the U.S. commission had no standing to judge the situation in a country that guarantees religious freedom. It was not the first time such a visit was blocked – the previous government also turned down a similar proposed visit.