Washington, D.C.: The ‘United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’ (USCIRF) issued its latest annual report in April 2022 on violations of religious freedoms and practices around the world. The section of India notes with concern that “In 2021, religious freedom conditions in India significantly worsened” and that “In 2021, the Indian government repressed critical voices – especially religious minorities and those reporting on and advocating for them – through harassment, investigation, detention, and prosecution under laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Sedition Law. The UAPA and Sedition Law have been invoked to create an increasing climate of intimidation and fear to silence anyone speaking out against the government.”
While documenting the widespread intimidation of human rights defenders, the report added that “The government arrested, filed complaints against, and launched criminal investigations into journalists and human rights advocates documenting religious persecution and violence, including Khurram Parvez, a prominent Muslim human rights advocate who has reported on abuses in Jammu and Kashmir.”
The report warned that the government continued to systematize its ideological vision of a Hindu state at both the national and state levels using both existing and new laws and structural changes hostile to the country’s religious minorities. The report added that In September (2021), the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that the “[ongoing use of (UAPA) throughout India is worrying, with the Muslim-majority state of] Jammu and Kashmir having among the highest number of cases in the country.”
Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai, Chairman, Washington-based ‘World Forum for Peace & Justice’ responded to the report of USCIRF by stating that the people of Kashmir continue to suffer greatly as the conflict continues. It is evident that such a climate of widespread tension is not conducive to a peaceful settlement of Kashmir dispute. There is a great urgency to end the human rights violations and reduce the tension, not only for the people of Kashmir but also for the minority communities in India – Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, and others.
While the Government of India struggles to support the façade of a progressive nation – the land of Gandhi – with respect to democracy and human rights, the malicious acts of terror being committed on a repeated basis are proof of a dire need of change. In this regard, the USCIRF report says, “During the year, the Indian government escalated its promotion and enforcement of policies – including those promoting a Hindu-nationalist agenda – that negatively affect Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and other religious minorities.”
Dr. Fai explained that the Government of India has declined either to punish or to investigate seriously instances of persecution of Muslims in Kashmir and elsewhere. Even though some Indian human rights groups are active throughout the country including Indian occupied Kashmir, the Government of India has yet to allow Amnesty International to set an office in India. AI has been trying to gain the access to the human rights violations in India and Kashmir, but the Government of India has ruled out any visit by it there.
USCIRF has very strongly recommended to the US Department of State to: Designate India as a ‘country of particular concern,’ or CPC, for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA); Impose targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individual’s or entities’ assets and / or barring their entry into the United States; and has recommended to the US Congress that it should raise religious freedom issues in the US-India bilateral relationship and highlight concerns through hearings, briefings, letters, and congressional delegations.
Agreeing with the conclusion of the report of USCIRF, Dr. Fai said that the Biden Administration has a moral obligation as a world power to persuade the Government of India to bring these atrocities in India and Kashmir to an immediate end.
Dr. Fai urged the United State to insist on transparency in Kashmir to build moral suasion against the massive and systematic human rights violations, perpetrated with impunity. As Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandies exhorted, sunshine is the best disinfectant.
“The United States cannot simply stand by and allow the Government of India to trample all international norms and fundamental freedoms in India and Kashmir. This must not stand”, Dr. Fai concluded.