Red flag on Religious Freedom

Published: August 11, 2016 - 16:41

Hardnews Bureau Delhi 

The US has raised concerns over India’s lethargic response in dealing with incidents of communal violence and cow vigilantism. Without mincing any words, Rabbi David Nathan Saperstein, who is the US ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, told reporters at a press conference, ““We have been clear in our engagement with India about our concerns about those times when the government has been slow to react when violence has taken place, and some of those controversies over the cows — are an example of that,”.

Speaking at the conference where he released the annual report on International Religious Freedom, Saperstein was clear in asserting that the Indian establishment needs to do more to inspire universal confidence that it was sincere about protecting its minorities. The report on religious freedom covers government policies violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. The U.S. Department of State submits the reports in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.


Saperstein further added that the US has been “clear” about its willingness to aid India in combating challenges to religious freedom, and also that the US has asked India to be more assertive in tackling incidents of religious violence. He also referred to US President Barack Obama’s visit to India last year, saying, “President Obama travelled to India. He gave a major public speech in which he was very clear about the need for religious freedom in India that could be exercised without people being subject to violence, urging the government to ensure that all people were able to safely live out their religious lives”.


The report comes out at a time when India is seeing increasing number of incidents of cow vigilantism. Some of the comments in the report would perhaps taint the halo which has formed around the Modi government. The report pointed out “that minority religious groups had expressed concerns about government discrimination and suggestions by government officials that Hinduism should be taught in public schools. Government officials at the federal, state, and local level made discriminatory statements against members of religious minority groups”. The report further added that “members of minority groups who were victims of religiously motivated violence or other animus complained of police inaction regarding such incidents”.


Perhaps the most damning indictment in the report comes when it mentions, “There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, coerced religious conversions, actions restricting the right of individuals to change religious beliefs, discrimination, and vandalism. Targets of killings included an intellectual advocating secular “rationalism.” Religiously motivated communal violence, including attacks by Hindus on Muslims due to alleged cow slaughter, led to deadly attacks and public rioting. Hindu nationalists threatened and assaulted Muslims and Christians and destroyed their property because of their beliefs and in disputes over the location of churches and mosques. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India, a Christian advocacy organization, there were 177 incidents of violence, harassment, or discrimination across the country targeting Christians. Incidents included assaults on missionaries, forced conversions, and attacks on churches, schools, and private property. Muslims were also targeted based on land disputes, their traditional livelihoods selling beef or buffalo products, and social interactions with Hindus. Several well-known authors, filmmakers, and other civil society members returned national and state-sponsored awards to protest what they said was the growing religious and cultural intolerance in the country”.