• Aslam Abdullah

US Body recommends denial of Visa to Indian Government officials and Ministers

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has designated 14 countries as "Countries of Particular Interest based on their record of persecution of religious minorities. They are Burma, China, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. It is the first time, India figures on this list. Despite the Howdy Mody moment and Trump's lavishly organized welcome in Ahmedabad, the USCIRF has recommended strong measures against India.

The government of India has trashed the report and the Indian media has totally ignored it. However, the BJP elites and the RSS leaders are upset at Trump and feel that their PR exercise in spending millions on his visit to Ahmedabad did not help them in improving their image in the US. It holds the RSS-BJP led government of India responsible for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious violations as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The Commission asks the Trump Administration to impose targeted sanctions on the Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/ or barring their entry into the United States under human rights-related financial and visa authorities, citing specific religious freedom violations; It suggests that the US Administration must strengthen the U.S. Embassy’s and consulates’ engagement with religious communities, local officials, and police, especially in regions impacted by religiously motivated violence; increase the U.S. partnerships with Indian law enforcement to build capacity to protect religious minorities, houses of worship, and other holy sites, and confront religious-based hate crimes. The Commission also recommends allocating funds to support civil society to create a monitoring and early warning system in partnership with the police to challenge hate speech and incitement to violence and it says that the U.S. Congress should continue to hold hearings highlighting religious freedom conditions in India. This is the first time that the US includes the secular, democratic India in the list of human rights violators such as China, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. The annual report released in April 2020 holds the BJP government responsible for instituting national level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims and concludes that the government allows violence against minorities and their places of worship to continue with impunity and also engaged in, and tolerated hate speech and incitement. U.S. policy toward India. The Commission calls the Citizenship Amendment ACT (CAA) a step to make Muslim citizens stateless in their own country. It refers to the statement of India's Home Minister, Amit Shah, who called migrants (Muslims) as termites to be eradicated. It also mentions the Delhi pogroms against Muslims in Delhi. The report cites the November Supreme Court ruling on the Babri Masjid and concludes that it created a culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities. The highest international body on religious freedom also mentions the usurpation of the autonomy of Muslim-majority state Jammu and Kashmir. The lynching of Muslims, Dalits, and Christians was an issue of great concern for the commission, especially in states run by the BJP and it mentions Tabrez Ansari in particular RSS and BJP supporters in Jharkhand lynched to death Tabrez Ansari, forcing him to chant “Jai Shri Ram (Hail Lord Ram)” The group refers to 328 violent incidents against Christians in 2019 including attacks on prayer services and the destruction of churches. The commissioners endorsed the findings on India, but Dr. Tenzin Dorjee, Tibetian refugees, objected to India's inclusion in the list of Countries of Particular Concern. He ignored the lynching of Muslims, the violence against Dalits and Christians as well as the riots against minorities in Delhi. He argued that India has religious freedom that Tibet and China do not have. Commissioner Gary L. Bauer also did not like the decision of putting India in a gallery of rogue nations. He, however, admitted that the trend line on religious freedom in India was not reassuring. COMMISSIONER JOHNNIE MOORE Commissioner Johnnie Moore expressed his grave concern of the deteriorating political and inter-communal strife but hoped that India based on its constitutional strength would be able to counter it. During the preparations of the report, various religious and lobbying groups played an active role in influencing the outcome. Yet, the Commission maintained its neutrality and autonomy. The RSS supporters in the US approached many of the commissioners and tried to influence their opinion on Hindutva. Their supporters from India even sent messages to some of the commissioners of facing dire consequences if they include the BJP led government of India in the list of countries of particular concern. Yet the commissioners went ahead with their recommendations. How the US will implement these recommendations. In this election year and amidst the Coronavirus crisis, the issue is on the backbench. But many lawmakers have already expressed their concerns and most likely Congress may hold hearings on the issue and may influence the Administration to at least imposing visa sanctions on BJP officials and ministers. The idea of declaring the RSS and its outfits in the US as a terrorist organization and sympathizers may also be considered by many Congress members.

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© Aslam Abdullah