Rise in anti-conversion laws, hate speech in India concerning: US

Washington: In the wake of the Pannun case, the United States is turning on the heat further on India now on the human rights and religious freedom fronts. US secretary of state Antony Blinken late on Wednesday (Thursday IST) said there has been a “concerning increase” in anti-conversion laws, hate speech, and demolitions of homes and places of worship for members of minority faith communities in India. News agency reports said he made the comments in his remarks at the release of the annual state department report on international religious freedom.
It may be noted India has been rejecting official American reports critical of the country on the human rights and religious freedom fronts.
The report said senior US officials continued to raise concerns about religious freedom issues with their Indian counterparts last year. “In India, we see a concerning increase in anti-conversion laws, hate speech, demolitions of homes and places of worship for members of minority faith communities. At the same time, people around the world are also working hard to protect religious freedom,” Mr Blinken was quoted as saying.
The 2023 report on International Religious Freedom said 10 of 28 states (in India) have laws restricting religious conversions for all faiths. Some of these states also impose penalties specifically against forced religious conversions for the purpose of marriage. During the year, some members of religious minority groups challenged the government's ability and willingness to protect them from violence, investigate crimes against members of religious minority groups, and protect their freedom of religion or belief, it added.
In this year’s report, the US state department said Christians and Muslims were arrested under laws banning forced religious conversions, which religious groups said in some cases were used to harass and imprison members of religious minority groups on false and fabricated charges or for lawful religious practices. Observing that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reiterated calls to enact a Uniform Civil Code at the national level as called for in the Constitution, instead of a system of separate personal laws for religious communities, the state department said Muslim, Sikh, Christian, and tribal leaders and some state government officials opposed the initiative on the grounds it was part of a project to turn the country into a “Hindu Rashtra”.
It may be recalled that after several critical references to India in the US state department’s Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2023, India had in April this year snubbed the United States and had called the report “deeply biased”, adding that “no value” should be attached to it. In response to a media query, MEA spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal had then said: “This report is deeply biased and reflects a poor understanding of India. We attach no value to it and urge you to do the same.”
Just last month, India had also accused the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) of trying to interfere in the Indian election process, adding that these efforts “will never succeed”. This came soon after the US body attacked India in its annual report for 2024.
On Wednesday, US deputy secretary of state Kurt M. Campbell had said the United States believes India is “looking at institutional reforms” in the wake of the Pannun case, adding that the US has “sought accountability from the Government of India” on the matter which pertains to US allegations that two Indian nationals, including an Indian government employee, were involved in a failed plot to murder US citizen and pro-Khalistan extremist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun last year on American soil. Mr Campbell, who had accompanied US national security adviser Jake Sullivan recently on a visit to India, had also said at a virtual media briefing that the US has “asked (India) for updates on the investigations” launched last year by New Delhi in the matter and has “raised the issue directly with the Indian government at the most senior levels”.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle with agency inputs )
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