US religious freedom watchdog USCIRF calls India ‘country of particular concern,’ slams Citizenship (Amendment) Act in annual report


The US Commission for International Religious Freedom, popularly known as the USCIRF, has placed India in the list of ‘countries of particular concern.’ This the first time since 2004 that the US religious freedom watchdog has recommended India to be declared as a ‘Country of Particular Concern.’ Other countries recommended to be placed in the same list for their questionable religious freedom are Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam.

Vice-Chair of the USCIRF, Nadine Maenza, said, “The Citizenship (Amendment) Act in India potentially exposes millions of Muslims to detention, deportation, and statelessness when the government completes its planned nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC).” 

In its annual report on International Religious Freedom for 2020, the US religious freedom watchdog observed that the religious freedom in India had witnessed a drastic downward turn. The report further said that the religious minorities were under increasing assault in India.

As expected, India was quick to reject the extraordinary criticism by the USCIRF and termed its observations the appalling condition of minorities living in the country and their religious freedom ‘biased and tendentious.’ “We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF annual report. Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava was quoted by news agency PTI.

Citing the controversial and discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the USCIRF alleged that the BJP government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national-level policies violating religious freedom across the country, especially for Muslims.

“Most notably, it enacted the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which provides a fast track to Indian citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan already residing in India,” it said.

The USCIRF also recommended Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, and Turkey to be placed in the US State Department’s Special Watch List.

This comes just days after Indian diplomats in the gulf countries had to issue public statements on India’s commitment on religious freedom. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, had issued public statements on the need to establish communal harmony in India.

Muslims in India have faced a fresh onslaught amidst the global coronavirus pandemic with supporters of PM Modi and the RSS blaming Muslims for the spread of the deadly virus. Several prominent BJP leaders have issued public appeals for the economic boycott of Muslims by not buying vegetables and fruits from Muslim vendors.