The United States wants India to condemn persistent religious violence, says a senior government official, a month before a state visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The US State Department on Monday released its annual report on religious freedom which listed attacks against religious minorities including Muslims and Christians in the world’s most populous nation.
A senior US official, briefing journalists on the report on condition of anonymity, spoke of India’s “vast potential” and said he was “saddened” by the “continued targeted attacks” on the country’s religious minorities.
“Regarding these concerns, we are continuing to encourage the government to condemn violence and hold accountable [those] who engage in rhetoric that is dehumanising towards religious minorities,” the official said.
The official promised to speak “directly” with Indian officials and said: “We will continue to work very closely with our civil society colleagues on the ground [and] with courageous journalists that are working every day to document some of these abuses.”
The State Department report, based on direct research as well as accounts by media and advocacy groups, pointed to concerns about home demolitions against Muslims and public flogging by police of Muslims in Gujarat, Modi’s home state.
Muslims comprise nearly 14 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people while Hindus are nearly 80 percent of the population and Christians at 2 percent.
New Delhi has long pushed back against US criticism on religious freedom, particularly by the autonomous US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which earlier this month once again recommended that the State Department put India on a blacklist over its record.
The body, in its annual report, said the Indian government “at the national, state and local levels promoted and enforced religiously discriminatory policies” in 2022. Those included “laws targeting religious conversion, interfaith relationships, the wearing of hijabs [headscarves] and cow slaughter”.
The USCIRF said the US State Department should designate India as a “country of particular concern” on religious freedom because of “systematic, ongoing [and] egregious violations” of religious freedom in the Hindu-majority nation.
Later this year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will list the “countries of particular concern” but it is virtually certain he will spare India, with which the US has been building warmer relations for decades, partly as a bulwark against China.
Blinken, presenting the report on Monday, did not mention India as he voiced alarm by actions by authorities in China, Iran, Myanmar and Nicaragua.
“We defend the right to believe – or to not believe – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because of the extraordinary good that people of faith can do in our societies and around the world,” he said.