U.S. religious freedom report takes note of CAA, NRC, J&K status

The U.S. State Department has released its annual International Religious Freedom (IRF) Report, a survey of the state of religious freedom across the world, submitted to the U.S. Congress.

The country report for India, which looks back on the developments in 2019, takes note of the change in the status of Jammu and Kashmir, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). It discusses in detail mob lynchings and anti-conversion laws and related issues.

“Issues of religiously inspired mob violence, lynching and communal violence were sometimes denied or ignored by lawmakers,” according to NGOs and media outlets, the report says. “Some officials of Hindu-majority parties, including from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), made inflammatory public remarks or social media posts against minority communities,” it says.

It details incidents of “cow vigilantism” and other types of mob violence — such as the attack last year on Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand.

The report also takes note of the Babri Masjid decision by the Supreme Court and the challenges to the 2018 reversal of a ban on some women entering the Sabarimala temple.

It outlines the U.S. engagement with India on the issues.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) — an independent bipartisan commission and separate from the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom — had, in April, recommended to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo that the State Department downgrade India’s religious freedom to the lowest grade — ‘Country of Particular Concern (CPC)’. The Secretary of State is not obliged to accept the recommendation and has not always done so.

As per law, the CPC and the Special Watch List (one level less severe than CPC) designations have to be made by the administration no later than 90 days after the publication of the IRF Report.

Unveiling the report at the State Department on Thursday, Mr. Pompeo listed countries for positive developments in religious freedom and negative examples (India was not cited in either list).

Nicaragua, Nigeria and China were cited as negative examples. “In China, state-sponsored repression against all religions continues to intensify. The Chinese Communist Party is now ordering religious organisations to obey CCP leadership and infuse communist dogmas into their teachings and practice of their faith.” Mr. Pompeo said Uighurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong followers and Christians were being repressed by China.

To a question on the handling of domestic protests in response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man at the hands of a white police officer, Mr. Pompeo denied there was a moral equivalence between countries that “repress” and “bludgeon” their people and they “burn down their religious facilities” and “deny journalists …the chance to ask a question of a Secretary of State”.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order which included a move to formally prioritise religious freedom in the U.S. foreign policy. The order also directed the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to allocate $50 million in its yearly budget towards programmes that sought to promote religious freedom.

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