US Panel’s Report

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A US government panel on religious freedom has called for action against India for its treatment of minorities, ranking it among the “countries of particular concern”. This is the first time India has got such ranking after 2004, marking the drastic slide in religious tolerance in recent years. Though recommendations of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bi-partisan group, are non-binding on the US government, the lower ranking for India amounts to a stark show of disapproval of the prevailing anti-Muslim atmosphere in the country, particularly the new divisive new citizenship law.

Significantly, the panel has called on the US to impose punitive measures, including visa bans on Indian officials believed responsible and grant funding to civil society groups that monitor hate speech. It has also highlighted the revocation of the autonomy of Kashmir in August last. The US, however, is unlikely to initiate any action against India given their close ties. US president Donald Trump visited India in February and addressed a massive gathering at a stadium in Gujarat. That time he refused to criticize India’s new citizenship law that bars Muslim refugees from several neighbouring countries from becoming India’s citizens while seeking to fast-track Indian citizenship of non-Muslims. Trump said the law was India’s internal matter. He also refused to talk about the Delhi riots that broke out during his visit.

That said, the US religious panel’s report dent’s India’s global image. New Delhi has thus slammed it as “biased and tendentious”. It said the report was “misrepresentation” at “new levels”. New Delhi, however, cannot wish away the panel’s report. There has certainly been drastic downturn in religious freedom in the country over the past several years and it can be traced to increasing assertiveness on the political scene of the right-wing political groups, with ruling party not doing enough to reign them in. Though an agenda for growth has been the pivot of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s broader political project, it hasn’t stopped his party from purveying its ideology, sometimes in crudest terms possible And this ideology is a majoritarian vision of India where minorities would keep their place in the society at the pleasure of majority.

Unlike India’s brand of secularism which has its own serious flaws, the majoritarianism sanctions a hierarchical community relationship, with minorities formally subservient to the majority. And this is what should be most troubling for the minorities in India, most specifically the Muslims, the hate for whom undergirds the new ruling politics. But will the PM Modi transcend this? So far other than some half-hearted statements he has shown no serious concern for the state of minorities in the country. Here’s hoping that the PM pays more attention to their plight and ensures their security. Only he can make a real redeeming difference.

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