Amid US protests on minority rights, State Dept official slams India

New York, June 11, 2020-

Even as the US is rocked by protests against the extra-judicial killing and mistreatment of minorities, a State Department top diplomat for religious freedom has expressed concerns about the treatment of religious minorities in India.

Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said on Wednesday, “We do remain very concerned about what’s taking place in India.”

“The trend lines have been troubling in India because it’s such a religious subcontinent, and yet it’s getting more and more — we’re seeing a lot more communal violence, we’re seeing a lot more difficulty,” he said while answering a question about India from a Pakistani reporter after the release in Washington of the 2019 International Report on Religious Freedom.

He warned that India was going to see more religious violence and to stem it suggested that India’s leadership hold interfaith dialogues.

He said, “I would hope they would have an interfaith dialogue starting to get developed at a very high level in India, and then also deal with the specific issues that we identified (in the report) as well.”

“My concern is, too, that if that effort’s not put forward, you’re going to see a growth in the violence and of the increased difficulty and difficulty within the society writ large,” he added.

Brownback said that the US has been “concerned about the scapegoating of religious minorities” for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“So in India, we would hope that the minority faiths not be blamed for the COVID — they’re not the ones responsible for it — and that they would have access to the healthcare and the foods and the medicines that they need during this crisis,” he added.

In the US, though, minority citizens of East and Southeast Asia origin have been attacked because COVID-19 originated in China.

The report chapter dealing with India is mostly a compilation of media reports and assertions by NGOs about attacks on religious minorities and restrictions like those governing conversions, foreign funding and visas.

The report purportedly dealing with religious issues mentions the revocation of Kashmir’s special constitutional status.

The Citizenship Amendment Act comes in for critical mention saying that “similarly-situated migrants who are Muslims, Jews, atheists, or members of other faiths” are not eligible for expedited citizenship like Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus from neighbouring officially Islamic or Muslim majority countries.

The law is similar to restrictive US immigration policies for those fleeing religious persecution.

The Specter Amendment included in the US budget legislation known as the Consolidated Appropriations Act, for example, gives asylum to some non-Muslim minorities from Iran, while pointedly excluding Muslims. The Lautenberg Amendment also restricts refugee status to certain minorities from the former Soviet Union.

The report accused leaders of “Hindu-majority parties” of spreading anti-minority sentiments — and that wording would include the Congress Party since a majority of its membership are of the Hindu faith unless Brownback has a different standard for religious affiliation.

“Some officials of Hindu-majority parties, including from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), made inflammatory public remarks or social media posts against minority communities,” the report said.

“There were reports by NGOs that the government sometimes failed to act to prevent or stop mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalized communities, and critics of the government,” according to the report.

The report took up “cow vigilantism,” saying “Mob attacks by violent Hindu groups against minority communities, including Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumours that victims had traded or killed cows for beef. Authorities often failed to prosecute perpetrators of such “cow vigilantism,” which included killings, mob violence, and intimidation.”

But the report also noted that Madhya Pradesh “penalises ‘cow vigilantism’ by setting fines of 25,000 to 50,000 rupees ($350-$700) and prison sentences of six months to three years for committing violence in the name of protecting cows.”

The report said that Rajasthan and West Bengal had passed anti-lynching legislation.

While listing attacks on minorities, the report also covered arrests or prosecutions of persons attacking minorities. (Agency)


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