The annual US Commission for International Religious Freedom's (USCIRF) report has recommended that the US State Department designate India as a "country of particular concern" for violation of religious freedom.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US government advisory organisation, separate from the US Department of State, that monitors and reports on religious freedom and makes policy recommendations to the president.
India has been flagged with 14 other nations including Russia, Syria, and Vietnam in the report, which urges the State Department to impose "targeted sanctions on individuals and entities in India responsible for violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals or entities assets and bar their entry into the US."
Other countries included are Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and North Korea.
"In 2020, religious freedom conditions in India continued their negative trajectory. The government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom," says the report.
Citing several instances when India witnessed "religious intolerance," the report termed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the Modi government as "religiously discriminatory," which led to nationwide protests against the CAA in early 2020.
Referring to last year's violence in parts of northeast Delhi, the report says, "In February, the worst Hindu Muslim mob violence in three decades erupted in Delhi. Mobs sympathetic to Hindu nationalism operated with impunity, using brutal force to single out Muslims, attack mosques, and destroy homes and businesses in majority Muslim neighbourhoods."
"Another set of policies raising significant concerns – and that too often resulting in violence – are the efforts to prohibit interfaith marriages or relationships using the false narrative of 'forced conversions,'" the report adds.
"Disinformation and intolerant content have emboldened intimidation, harassment, and mob violence in recent years, including numerous instances of violence mainly against Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Adivasi, and other religious communities," it continues.
However, in the past India has dismissed any suggestions of religious intolerance made by USCIRF, saying that the American organisation has "chosen to be guided only by its biases on a matter on which it has no locus standi."
"Our position remains that we see no locus standi for a foreign entity to pronounce on the state of our citizens' constitutionally protected rights," India's Ministry of External Affairs said last year.
USCIRF Commissioner Johnnie Moore said that while India is “diversity personified,” it also “does seem to be at crossroads."
“Its democracy – still young and freewheeling – is creating through the ballot box difficult challenges for itself. The answer, of course, is for India’s institutions to draw upon their rich history to protect their values. India must always resist allowing political and inter-communal conflict to be exacerbated by religious tensions. India’s government and people have everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose from preserving social harmony and protecting the rights of everyone. India can. India must,” said Moore.