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Jun 06, 2020 PRINT EDITION
Editorials

Religious freedoms: violations by India

The scourge of coronavirus has not stopped India's ultra Hindu nationalist government from targeting Muslims in its zeal to create a "Hindu Rashtra." On Thursday, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed its concern over th

Updated May 21, 2020

The scourge of coronavirus has not stopped India's ultra Hindu nationalist government from targeting Muslims in its zeal to create a "Hindu Rashtra." On Thursday, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed its concern over the arrest of activists who protested against the patently discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that singles out Muslims for discriminatory treatment. "At this time, India should be releasing prisoners of conscience, not targeting those practising their democratic right to protest," said the USCIRF, making specific mention of the arrest of Safoora Zargar, a research fellow at the Jamia Millia University in Delhi and media coordinator of Jamia Coordination Committee, who was detained during the communal violence that broke out in Delhi over the CAA. In another tweet, the Commission recalled that its annual report for 2020 had recommended that India be designated a Country of Particular Concern for its "systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedoms during 2019", adding that "unfortunately this negative trend has continued into 2020."
India had dismissed out of hand not only its designation as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), but also denounced the USCIRF, calling it an "Organisation of Particular Concern" with no "locus standi" or official standing, disregarding the verity that it is a government organisation created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Its couldn't-care-less attitude, of course, is informed by the fact that India is a strategic partner of the US. And it is up to the Secretary of State to decide whether to act on the Commission's recommendation of putting India on the State Department's CPC list and take some punitive action, such as making a demarche, suspension of bilateral exchanges, or sanctions targeted at specific individuals. The last option, it may be recalled, was invoked by the State Department after the 2004 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, denying visa to the then chief minister Narendra Modi for his role in the carnage. Now that he is the prime minister systematically implementing his Hindutva agenda, Washington is not going to push human rights at the cost of jeopardizing its geostrategic and economic interests. It may have quietly expressed, though, some concern to New Delhi over what the USCIRF had to say about the CAA, Indian Supreme Court's blatantly biased decision in the Babri Mosque case, and the unspeakable rights violations in occupied Kashmir. But the administration is not expected to pay heed to the recommendation of its own commission. After all, Washington has a long track record of supporting all manner of oppressive regimes for the furtherance of its own interests.
The Modi government's bigoted and divisive policies are bad news for the social harmony of India itself. Aware of what is at stake, most opposition parties and conscientious public intellectuals who take pride in their country's traditional pluralistic culture and its founding ideal of secularism have rejected the CAA and strongly condemned the torching of Muslim-owned shops, houses and vehicles by saffron brigades in Delhi that left seven people dead, and at least 50 others injured. They have a long fight on their hands to secure the country's secular ethos.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020