With New Delhi’s image taking a beating due to incidents of violence against minorities, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged president Barack Obama to raise the issues of religious freedom and human rights during his forthcoming trip to India. It has also urged Obama to ensure that the issues are included in the US’ broader bilateral agenda, so that they can be discussed continuously even after his visit.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government commission. Its principal responsibilities are to review facts and circumstances of violation of religious freedom internationally and make policy recommendations to the US president, the secretary of state and congress.
The agency has written to Obama that India was on its watch list since 2009 due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom the country’s government had either engaged in or tolerated.
While lauding the religious composition in Indian politics, USCIRF said: “India is ripe for thorough exchange on issues of religious freedom...A country with a Hindu majority, India has one of the world’s largest Muslim populations, the current prime minister is Sikh, the past president is Muslim, and the head of the national governing alliance is a Catholic. India’s democracy, religious pluralism and tradition of religious tolerance are truly noteworthy.”
Yet, despite its history of tolerance and the current government’s commitment to sustaining it, episodic communal violence continues to occur in India, the commission said.
“The governmental response, particularly at the state and local levels, has not been adequate, and justice for victims, such as those in Gujarat and Orissa, often has been slow and ineffective.
This reality fosters a climate of impunity, and in such conditions members of vulnerable minority religious communities have few assurances of safety and little hope of perpetrator accountability,” commission head Leonard Leo wrote.
He, however, gave credit to the Indian government’s efforts to confront the problem. The commission said the absence of sectarian violence after the recent court decision on the Ayodhya religious site was largely a result of the proactive steps the Indian government took and lauded the government’s efforts to create fast-track judicial mechanisms to hasten justice in relation to sectarian clashes, such as in Orissa and Gujarat.
USCIRF had written a similar letters to former presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush before their India visits.