Religious Freedom Report By US Panel Clashes With India’s Secular Identity – OpEd


A panel of American experts on religious liberty has once again urged their government to censure India for its treatment of minority faiths. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) latest report suggests that India should be added to a list of countries that severely violate the rights of minority faiths, accusing the Government of fostering a climate of intolerance and violence.

The year 2022 was marked by a further deterioration of religious freedom conditions in India. Discriminatory policies promoted and enforced by the Indian government at the national, state, and local levels targeted various religious groups, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and Adivasis. The government’s laws targeted religious conversion, interfaith relationships, hijab-wearing, and cow slaughter. The suppression of critical voices, particularly religious minorities and their advocates, continued through surveillance, harassment, demolition of property, and detention under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and by targeting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).

The Indian government’s use of the UAPA and Sedition Act throughout the year targeted freedom of religion and expression, leading to a growing climate of intimidation and fear. Journalists, lawyers, rights activists, and religious minorities advocating for religious freedom were surveilled, harassed, detained, and prosecuted. Additionally, hundreds of cases remained pending against individuals involved in the peaceful protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in 2019, and many of those arrested under the UAPA remained incarcerated.

The continued enforcement of discriminatory laws facilitated a culture of impunity for widespread campaigns of threats and violence by mobs and vigilante groups. State governments upheld the hijab ban in public schools, which led to instances of violence. State governments also passed and enforced anti-conversion laws, with public notice requirements for interfaith marriages imposed in 10 states resulting in violent reprisals against couples. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) committed to enforcing harsher penalties for interfaith marriages in its 2022 election manifesto for Uttar Pradesh.

Violent attacks were also carried out across India under the justification of protecting cows from slaughter or transport. Destruction of property, including places of worship in predominantly Muslim and Christian neighborhoods, continued throughout the year. Social media platforms facilitated widespread disinformation, hate speech, and incitement of violence toward religious minorities.

The situation in India was highlighted during India’s fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR), with UN member states expressing concern over the broad application of India’s “anti-terror” laws and emphasizing the need for protections for religious minorities. As India continues to grapple with issues of religious freedom, the international community must remain vigilant in advocating for the protection of the rights of all religious groups in the country.

The report has sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries, with India rejecting the findings as “prejudiced and baseless”.

The panel, known as the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said India had committed violations by enacting a citizenship law that discriminates against Muslims seeking fast-track naturalization, failing to prevent or prosecute communal violence in Delhi that killed more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, and cracking down on peaceful protests against the law.

The panel also cited anti-conversion laws in some states that restrict the right to change one’s religion, especially for Hindus who convert to Christianity or Islam, and the harassment and intimidation of religious minorities and human rights activists by state and non-state actors, such as vigilante groups and mobs.

India has rejected the panel’s report, calling it “prejudiced and baseless”. The Indian government said it does not need any external endorsement of its commitment to pluralism and tolerance. India has a long tradition of hosting diverse religious communities and protecting their rights under its constitution, but critics say the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has undermined the secular ethos of the nation and fostered a climate of fear and hatred among religious minorities.

The USCIRF report has raised concerns about the erosion of India’s secular fabric and its impact on religious minorities. Discrimination and harassment against Muslim women persist at the local and state levels, with incidents of violence and hate speech on the rise. The panel has recommended that the US government designate India as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) for its religious freedom violations.

However, the US government has not followed the panel’s advice on India in previous years, despite mounting criticism of the Hindu nationalist policies of Prime Minister Modi’s government. India has accused the panel of being ignorant of India’s diversity and democratic ethos, and of having an agenda against India. India has also refused to grant visas to panel members who wanted to visit the country to assess the situation on the ground.

The USCIRF report highlights the need for India to uphold its constitutional commitment to religious freedom and to address the concerns of religious minorities. It also underscores the importance of the international community in holding countries accountable for their actions and promoting religious tolerance and diversity.

The diplomatic row between India and the US over the USCIRF report reflects the growing concern over the erosion of secularism and the rise of religious nationalism in India. It remains to be seen how India will respond to the report and whether it will take steps to address the concerns raised by the panel.

The writer is an Islamabad based independent researcher with a masters in Development Studies and currently pursuing her PHD in International Relations from the University of Wyoming. 

Afia Atiq Malik

Afia Atiq Malik is an independent researcher and currently pursuing her PHD from the University of Wyoming, USA.

One thought on “Religious Freedom Report By US Panel Clashes With India’s Secular Identity – OpEd

  • May 9, 2023 at 6:53 am

    The report is a travesty of truth and the actual situation in India and it is pedaled by forces frustrated in their attempts to block India’s progress. The money and energy spent in producing such futile reports would be better spent in improving Pakistan’s sinking economy. Muslims in India have done well along with the rest of the country. Their numbers have increased relative to the other religious groups in the country while in Pakistan things have gone in the opposite direction by systematic suppression and oppression. Impartial statistics would not lie.


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