The United States has once again laid bare its hypocrisy in asserting its questionable moral authority to criticize India’s record of religious freedom. The American government’s annual report on international religious freedom has yet again resorted to its hackneyed policy of sitting in moral judgment on other countries’ religious freedom credentials. The report has said that “mob attacks by violent extremist groups against minority communities continued” throughout 2018. The Indian Government has sternly rebuffed the report saying the US has “no locus standi to pronounce on the state of our citizens”. It has further said that “India is proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion”.
Curiously, Mr. Tenzin Dorjee, Chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, has given a dissenting view saying “India is an open society with a robust democracy and judiciary system”. The Commission regularly comes out with reports berating countries for “severe violations of religious freedom”. Given the Trump administration’s core constituency, this report seems aimed more at his domestic support base. That explains how last year US Vice-President Mike Pence addressed the first “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedoms” in Washington DC where he said that “religious freedom is a top priority of the Trump administration”. It discussed challenges facing religious freedom, identified means to address persecution of and discrimination against religious groups.
Whether it is human rights, religious freedom and freedom of the press, the US is known for berating bad guys while giving a free pass to its favourites. The US has made a mockery of these issues by condemning abuses by adversary states but has remained silent when crimes were committed by US and its allies. The categorization of “free”, “partly free” and “not free” countries by the Freedom House (a not for profit organization that works for freedom of press globally) has often placed India with countries with atrocious freedom of press records. One can only laugh at the index of press freedom that it released a few years ago. There is no need to take these phoney reports and hypocritical labeling seriously.
Interestingly, the Trump administration which sits in judgment on other countries democratic and human rights record, has itself now come under attack from the Freedom House report. It says, while democracy in America remains robust by global standards, it has weakened significantly over President Trump’s “ongoing attacks on the rule of law, fact-based journalism and other principles and norms of democracy threaten further decline”. Freedom House warns that the resilience of US democratic institutions in the face of such assaults can’t be taken for granted.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedoms has kept India on the watch list since 2009. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has all along trashed these report. It did reject the charge in 2015 and 2016. President Obama too challenged India’s record on religious tolerance when he visited India.
No country can perhaps claim that there are no excesses against religious freedom. But India has a robust democracy and strong institutions including judiciary, Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Minorities and Ministry for Minority Affairs. Many of these bodies may not have enforcement powers but they do have the power to order investigations.
All said, religious freedom in India is often misunderstood in the US. Such needless reports are hardly helpful as they are seen as interferences in India’s internal affairs and arm-twisting. Secularism in India has stood the test of time. Minorities in India enjoy constitutional guarantees that is protected by the Indian Constitution. Many nations have not given these rights to their citizens. As the former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had once said, “no one can challenge India’s secularism.”
Script: Dr. Ash Narain Roy, Director, Institute Of Social Sciences, Delhi