Context: The U.S. State Department has recently 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.
More on the news:
- Unveiling the report at the State Department recently US Secretary of state-listed countries for positive developments in religious freedom and negative examples
- India was not cited in either of the two lists.
- Nicaragua, Nigeria, and China were cited as negative examples
- Regarding China, it was said that Uighurs, Tibetans, Falun Gong followers, and Christians were being repressed by the state.
India Specific Findings of the report
- Even though the report has not placed India in either of positive or negative list it took note of following allegations and specific concerns
- The Citizenship Amendment Act
- The proposed National Register for Citizens
- Multiple indices of mob lynchings and anti-conversion laws
- The situation in Jammu and Kashmir
- 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.
- The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report,2020 had earlier recommended to US Secretary of State that the State Department downgrade India’s religious freedom to the lowest grade ‘Country of Particular Concern (CPC)’.
- The report had placed India alongside countries, including China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan under the Tier 1 category of particular concern.
- This is the first time since 2004 that India has been placed in ‘countries of particular concern’ category.
- India was categorized as a “Tier 2 country” in last year’s listing.
- USCIRF has alleged that in 2019, religious freedom conditions in India "experienced a drastic turn downward", with religious minorities under increasing assault.
Countries of Particular concern:
- It is a designation by the United States Secretary of State (under authority delegated by the President) of a nation guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 and its amendment of 1999.
- The term "particularly severe violations of religious freedom" means systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as:
- Torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment;
- Prolonged detention without charges;
- Causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or
- Other flagrant denials of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.
- Nations so designated are subject to further actions, including economic sanctions, by the United States.
- Recommendations for inclusion are given by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (along with the U.S. Department of State's Office of International Religious Freedom) to the president, the secretary of state, and the US Congress.
- Its recommendations are not always followed by the Secretary of State.
- 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.
About U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom(USCIRF)
- USCIRF is an independent, U.S. federal government commission
- It is created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.
- Threat to India’s impression as multi-religious democracy:
- Overall, such reports contribute to the construction of an image of a country, and the Indian government is cognisant of this pattern.
- India advertises itself as a multi-religious democracy and as an adherent to global norms of rule of law.
- The catalog of religious violence, incitement, and wrecking of the rule of law in several parts of the country remains an unsettling fact for India.
- Essential functions of a democracy:
- Reputation is important for a country’s economic development and global standing but beyond that instrumental perspective, rule of law and communal harmony are essential for any functioning democracy.