Coming out strongly against the US State Department’s 2018 International Religious Freedom Report, Ministry of External affairs’ spokesperson, Raveesh Kumar has out rightly rejected the report and said “India is proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion.” He also added “We see no locus standi for a foreign entity/government to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights,”. The US State Department’s 2018 International Religious Freedom Report released on 21st of June made strong claims against religious freedoms in India and also questioned Indian laws curbing on illegitimate foreign funding of NGOs. The report claimed:
“Religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives” the report also claimed that “government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities…have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities.”
Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi also came out strongly against the report and rejected it as ‘prejudiced’. He said “Religious freedom is in India’s DNA and we don’t need a certificate from anyone. This report is far from ground realities and prejudiced,” United Sates has been called out time and time again for putting out biased reports against India and using them as pressure tools to achieve geopolitical goals, however, over the past few years, India has been taking proactive steps to counter these biases.
The Religious Freedom Report also raises questions the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) which was introduced by the Indian Government to improve transparency in the funding processes of NGOs. The report claims “The NGOs were often targeted for political reasons; however, non-Hindu religious organizations were also targeted.” The report also claimed that FCRA has been “applied against Christian groups.”However, the report conveniently misses out to inform about the functioning of some of these NGOs. While receiving donations from gullible Christians and other religious groups from around the world mainly from the USA on account of helping the poor and spreading the message of Christianity, these NGOs have been under investigations over misappropriation of these funds for personal benefits other than the activities mandated by the donors.
It is also to note that the introduction of FCRA has hit hard the religious conversion industry in India, NGOs operating under the garb of charity organizations have just been aiding religious conversions by misleading the poor and tribal populations, several individuals associated with these NGOs are also under investigation for their support of Maoist insurgents in India. A large section of Indian society has raised concerns against missionary NGOs claiming to be custodians of one ‘true religion’ and misleading underprivileged citizens and exploiting their situation to push them to convert to other religion mainly Christianity.
The credentials of individuals behind this report also raise sharp questions on the objectivity of this ‘report’. Tony Perkins, one of the commissioners of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has been found involved in several controversies over his comments against non-Christian groups. He was called out when he had has described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity”. In 2007, Perkins opposed the first-ever Hindu prayer before the United States Senate saying that “No one can legitimately challenge the fact that the God America refers to in the national motto and other places are the monotheistic God of the Jewish and Christian faith. There is no historic connection between America and the polytheistic creed of the Hindu faith.” He also opposed US Marines yoga and meditation program for PTSD prevention terming the Hindu and Buddhist practices as “goofy”.
The Commission has been accused of being biased towards focusing on the activities Christian groups and of being anti-Muslim. Suhag Shukla Executive director of the Hindu American Foundation had also expressed his concern over the appointment of Tony Perkins and the inherent pro-Christian bias of the Commission. He had said “HAF has expressed long-standing concerns about USCIRF’s credibility. From the lack of religious representation among Commissioners to the hiring of questionable ‘experts’ with ties to radical, separatists outfits, USCIRF remains bereft of any diversity, transparency, and accountability, and as a result, hurts our country’s ability to be a genuine torchbearer of religious freedom.”
The comments by Tenzin Dorjee, Chair in the Religious Freedom Report also point towards the biased nature of the report in his individual comments. “I respectfully dissent on the views that India’s religious freedom conditions continued on a downward trend, the government allowed and encouraged mob violence against religious minorities, and some states are involved in “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”India is an open society with a robust democratic and judiciary system.”However, it remains to be seen if the United States continues to bow down to the pressure of Christian conversion lobby and steps up to provide a real objective analysis of suppression of religious freedom instead of pushing forward the Christian conversion agenda under the garb of preaching religious freedom.