India denies visa to US religious freedom investigators

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India has barred U.S. representatives from investigating the county's reported violations of religious freedom, continuing what critics call a trend of Hindu nationalism that threatens religious minorities in India.

The investigation, called for by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), followed reports of the abuse of Chistians, Muslims, and other religious minorities in India. The reports prompted USCIRF to delegate India a "country of particular concern" (CPC) in its 2020 annual report. India joined a list of 13 other CPCs in the report, including North Korea and China.

"We see no locus standi for a 'foreign entity/government' to pronounce on the state of our citizens' constitutionally protected rights," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, according to a report by IndiaToday. He said India is a "pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion."

Although India's constitution protects the freedom of religion, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has manipulated the constitutional stipulation that religious freedom is "subject to public order," using the clause to promote Hindu nationalism, according to the USCIRF report.

One such instance of Hindu nationalism is a new policy that would fast-track the citizenship of non-Muslim migrants by treating them as refugees fleeing religious persecution. The same status would not be conferred on 100 million other migrants, potentially making them illegal residents of India.

This policy incited violent riots in northeastern Delhi in February, killing 27 and injuring over 200, according to a CNA report. The riots saw Hindu mobs attacking unarmed people and especially targeting Muslims.

Reports indicate that Indian Hindus, who make up nearly 80% of India's population, have systematically targeted Muslims in lynch mobs for slaughtering or eating beef– a practice that Hindus consider to be a religious offense. Since the BJP came to power in 2014, there have been over 100 lynch mob attacks in India, which often originate on social media. The law enforcement is known to arrest the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of these attacks.

Religious discrimination and violence has also been directed toward Christians in recent years.

In January, Hindu groups attempted to prevent the building of a huge statue of Jesus in Bangalore. They claimed a Hindu god lives on the hill where the local Catholic archdiocese was planning to erect the statue.

In 2008, Hindu nationalists organized attacks on Christian homes, schools, and churches in Karnataka, physically beating hundreds of Christians. The Saldhana Report, an independent report on the attacks released in 2011, revealed that the attacks were backed by India's highest government authorities.

Dozens of Catholics in the same region were attacked in 2019 while conducting a Marian pilgrimage, resulting in the arrest of six Hindu Nationalists.

The USCIRF's delegation of India as a CPC, which precipitated the investigation, was not unanimous. Gary Bauer, the president of American Values who serves as a USCIRF commissioner, dissented from the majority opinion, along with two other USCIRF commissioners.

"The trend line on religious freedom in India is not reassuring. But India is not the equivalent of communist China, which wages war on all faiths; nor of North Korea, a prison masquerading as a country; nor of Iran, whose Islamic extremist leaders regularly threaten to unleash a second Holocaust," said Bauer. "I am confident that India will reject any authoritarian temptation and stand with the United States and other free nations in defense of liberty, including religious liberty."

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