US Commission on International Religious Freedom Annual Report 2020: Explained
The U.S. Commission on the International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) downgraded India's ranking in its 2020 report. The report has ranked India in Countries of Particular Concern (CPC), which is the lowest ranking in the list. The report has placed India alongside countries like China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
In its last year's report, India was listed as a 'Tier 2 country' and since 2004, for the first time, India has been given this ranking by the USCIRF.
Reasons for the lowest rating
As per the USCIRF report, India experienced a drastic turn downward with its religious minorities under increasing assault in 2019. The Central Government instituted national level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims.
The report further stated that the Modi Government enacted the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to give citizenship to 6 non-muslim religious communities-- Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Buddhist, and Christian-- residing in India from three neighbouring countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan). Nationwide NRC will be carried out to implement CAA.
Nationwide protests took place against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In Uttar Pradesh, the police and government-aligned groups clashed. In the wake of these protests, the firebrand of BJP and CM of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Aadityanath, pledged to take revenge against the protestors and stated that these people must be fed with bullets instead of biryani.
The report also cited that the year 2019 created a culture of impunity for the nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities in India. These include-- CAA, continued enforcement of cow slaughter and anti-conversion laws, and the SC ruling on the disputed Babri Masjid site and the abrogation of Article 370.
Mostly in BJP ruled states, mob-lynchings of persons suspected of cow slaughter or consuming beef continued. For instance, Tabrez Ansari was lynched by a mob in Jharkhand and was forced to chant 'Jai Shree Ram'. Not only Muslims, but Christians were also attacked over false accusations of forced conversions.
NRC in Assam
Under the mandate of the Apex Court of India, statewide NRC was carried out in Assam to identify illegal migrants residing in the state. When the data of the NRC was released, around 1.9 million residents, both Muslims and Hindus, were excluded.
The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA)
In December 2019, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) was passed in the Indian Parliament to give citizenship to the persecuted minorities already living in India from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. As per Home Minister, Amit Shah, first, nationwide NRC will be implemented and then the CAA. Statewide NRC in Assam proved to be a failure. Impoverished families could not present the necessary documents due to poor record-keeping or illiteracy. In addition to this, the citizens even with documents were also excluded in Assam.
According to the government statements and under the Citizenship Rules, 2003, the NPR allows residents to be marked as “doubtful citizens” and will be placed under scrutiny-- is the first step toward a nation-wide NRC.
Cow Slaughter Laws
The cow is a sacred animal in Hinduism and Article 48 of the Indian Constitution allows the states to take steps to prohibit the slaughter of cows. In addition to this, RSS and BJP have promoted the protection of cows. Many minorities like Muslims, Christians and Dalits were attacked under the suspicion of eating beef, slaughtering cows, or transporting cattle for slaughter. The report alleges that the police attacks lynching victims, rather than the perpetrators.
The Indian Constitution protects the right to proselytize, however, 10 Indian States have criminalized conversion using force, allurement, inducement, or fraud. Also, many people use vague language that can be interpreted as prohibiting consensual conversions. CM Yogi Adityanth started the mass conversion known as 'Ghar Wapsi'.
In September 2019, the Home Ministry of India introduced several new rules under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act. The Act required all the members of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to sign an affidavit
affirming they have not been prosecuted or convicted for indulging in forced religious conversion to receive foreign funding. To this, Christian organizations expressed fear that these rules will limit their activities.
Religious Freedom in Jammu and Kashmir
As per the report by USCIRF, several mosques were closed in the Jammu and Kashmir, Imams and Muslim leaders were arrested and detained, and Muslims faced threats and violence by extremist groups. In August 2019, the government stripped Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomy and imposed security measures (restricting freedom of movement, cutting Internet and phone access, and arresting Kashmiri leaders), etc.
The Central Government of India rejected the observations made by the USCIRF in its annual report and termed it biased and tendentious.