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US religious freedom report names BJP chief Amit Shah, endorses rejection of Modi's visa during 2005-14

By Our Representative
The just-released 2016 annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), expressing serious concern over “negative trajectory” on religious freedom in India, has warned that it may, in future, seek to downgrade India’s status from Tier II countries to “country of particular concern”.
“In 2015”, it says, “Religious tolerance deteriorated and religious freedom violations increased in India. Minority communities, especially Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups.”
Especially targeting the ruling BJP, RSS and other Sangh Parivar organizations for using “religiously-divisive language to further inflame tensions”, it says, the problem has got aggravated following “longstanding problems of police bias and judicial inadequacies”, creating a “pervasive climate of impunity, where religious minority communities feel increasingly insecure, with no recourse when religiously-motivated crimes occur.”
Recalling how it recommended and succeeded in barring Prime Minister Narendra Modi to enter the US for nine years, from 2005 to 2014, on the basis of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) “for systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom”, the report says this was done for Modi's “complicity in riots” in 2002 Gujarat riots that resulted in the deaths of “an estimated 1,100 to 2,000 Muslims.”
Not regretting the action, the USCIRF says, it urges the “Departments of State and Homeland Security to develop a lookout list of non-citizens who are inadmissible to the United States on this basis.”
Asking the US government to “integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateral contacts with India, including the framework of future Strategic Dialogues”, the report wants the U.S. Embassy to address “issues of religious freedom and related human rights” in India.
Expressing dismay over refusal of the Government of India not allowing the US Commission to visit India, the report has urged the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom or Belief to visit the country in order to find out how things have developed in the recent past.

Comment on Amit Shah

Asking states, including Gujarat, to repeal the anti-conversion laws “or amend them to conform with internationally-recognized human rights standards”, the report asks “the Indian government to publicly rebuke government officials and religious leaders that make derogatory statements about religious communities.”
In fact, it expresses serious concern that in 2015, some high-ranking members of the ruling BJP, “including the party’s president Amit Shah, called for a nationwide anti-conversion law.”
Noting how “the national government or state governments applied several laws to restrict religious conversion, cow slaughter, and foreign funding of NGOs”, the report recalls how in December 2014, Hindu nationalist groups announced plans to “reconvert” thousands of Christian and Muslims families to Hinduism as part of a so-called Ghar Wapsi (returning home) program.
“In advance of the programme, the Hindu groups sought to raise money for their campaign, noting that it cost nearly 200,000 rupees (US$3,200) per Christian and 500,000 rupees (US$8,000) per Muslim”, it says.
Referring to the misuse of the 2010 Foreign (Contribution) Regulation Act, the report points to how it “regulates the inflow and use of money received from foreign individuals, associations, and companies that may be ‘detrimental to the international interest’,” leading to a situation where, in April 2015, “the Ministry of Home Affairs revoked the licenses of nearly 9,000 charitable organizations.”
“Among the affected organizations were Christian NGOs that receive money from foreign co-religionists to build or fund schools, orphanages, and churches, and human rights activists and their funders”, it says.
In this context, it particularly refers to well-known social activist Teesta Setalvad’s two NGOs, Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), “which run conflict-resolution programs and fight court cases stemming from the 2002 Gujarat riots, had their registrations revoked.”
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