USCIRF’s reports are a compendium of self-serving interpretations, questionable factuality and reckless hyperbole.
The harsh and uncalled for indictment of India as a CPC or a “Country of Particular Concern” by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has raised the hackles of the Indian establishment, caused consternation among many Indians and given the traditional Narendra Modi bashers a handle to excoriate the government.
But who or what is the USCIRF? Is it a credible body whose words carry the weight of moral authority or is it a dubious cabal whose motives are suspect? And what are the ramifications of this negative portrayal?
The USCIRF, according to its website, defines itself as “an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission…dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad”.
But its modus operandi is anything but what is defined in its preamble. When scrutinized carefully, its reports prove to be a compendium of self-serving interpretations, questionable factuality and reckless hyperbole—all cocktailed together to produce an inflammatory assessment of sensational value; the assessments are neither objective nor sincere.
A CPC, according to the USCIRF, is a country where the government engages in or tolerates “particularly severe” violations of religious freedom; severe violations being defined as ones that are “systematic, ongoing, [and] egregious”.
Along with India in 2020, the USCIRF designated 13 more countries as CPCs: this list includes countries like China, Pakistan, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.
First, to club India with the above-named autocracies or theocracies is an egregious (to use the USCIRF’s own terminology) violation of the basic tenets of honesty, objectivity and rationale. There will be few takers for this characterisation at either the country or on an individual level.
In support of its recommendation, the USCIRF cites four areas of concern: Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), cow slaughter laws, anti-conversion laws and religious freedom in J&K. But the logic fails to convince.
The CAA was not an authoritarian diktat. It was a legislation passed by a democratically elected Parliament in the largest democracy in the world. Even its opponents grudgingly agree that the CAA viewed independently is non-controversial and serves a noble cause. That the CAA linked to the NRC could become a deadly discriminatory tool is deliberate scaremongering—not an evidence driven derivative. Official committees cannot base their recommendations on such far-fetched conjectures.
With regard to cow slaughter vigilantism, the analysis is again too faulty to be constructive.
The USCIRF claims that “Cow protection has been promoted as a key issue by the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)” and “since the BJP came to power in 2014, there have been over 100 attacks, amounting to over 98 percent of such attacks since 2010”, making it appear as BJP instigated violence.
Not true. Cow protection is not a whim of the BJP or RSS alone, but an integral facet of life in India. Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists—all revere the cow and Article 48 of the Constitution prohibits the killing of “cows and calves”. Anti-cow slaughter laws have existed throughout Indian history—during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and even during the rule of some Mughal Emperors.
Rather than invoke religious xenophobia, India’s Supreme Court rightly diagnosed cow slaughter vigilantism as a law and order problem related to “mobocracy”, the bane of Indian society; accordingly, the SC issued directives to deter such crimes.
Prime Minister Modi has repeatedly condemned these crimes and several states—Manipur, Rajasthan and West Bengal—have passed anti-lynching bills. In July of 2019, the state appointed Law Commission in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh formulated a bill, the Uttar Pradesh Combating of Mob Lynching Bill (2019) that proposes imprisonment up to 10 years for perpetrators.
The government’s actions, the Supreme Court guidance and anti-lynching bills clearly disprove the claim that cow vigilantism is “systematic” or “ongoing”.
Likewise, the USCIRF’s censure of anti-conversion laws does not pass muster. Conversion is an anathema to all Hindus and not the BJP alone. Mahatma Gandhi called conversions the “deadliest poison” and declared: “If I had the power and could legislate, I should stop all proselytizing.”
Anti-conversion laws are meant to deter religious evangelists from using fraud, allurement or force to exploit the illiterate poor masses. Eight states have anti-conversion laws; several of them were enacted by Congress governments including the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill 2006.
The Supreme Court of India has clarified that Article 25, which gives all Indians the right “to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion” does not axiomatically mean the right to convert. In the case of Rev. Stainislaus vs State Of Madhya Pradesh (1977) the Supreme Court proclaimed: “…there is no fundamental right to convert another person to one’s own religion because if a person purposely undertakes the conversion of another person to his religion…that would impinge on the ‘freedom of conscience’ guaranteed to all the citizens of the country alike”.
How can laws that echo Gandhi’s thoughts and are in line with the Constitution be considered immoral?
Lastly, to deem a political statute (the abrogation of Article 370) that abolishes a political apartheid as an assault on the religious freedom of Kashmiri Muslims is a convoluted and laughable piece of logic. Moreover, when one factors in the ethnic cleansing of the minority Hindus (250,000 Hindus have been driven out) and the continued oppression of Shia Muslims (prevented by law to take out processions) under Sunni majority Kashmir the rationale becomes even more bizarre.
There is a clear anti-Hindu strain that runs through the narrative: opposition to the CAA, cow-slaughter, anti-conversion laws and the championing of religious freedom in a Hindu cleansed Kashmir.
Cut to the chase the USCIRF report is a malicious Hindu-phobic dossier out to undermine the robust and pluralistic values of an ancient civilizational state by raising the bogey of religious discrimination. It is by no means an altruistic attempt to enforce moral tenets.
Most foreign affairs experts agree that this report is unlikely to have any significant impact on major Indo-US bilateral issues; some, however, worry about its “reputational” value.
India’s reputation is not and cannot be dependent on the whimsical opinions of some obscure foreign advisory committee packed with Hinduphobic acolytes. India’s reputation stems from its confidence in its traditional values. India is a moral giant: the birthplace of Buddha, Mahavira, Guru Nanak and Mahatma Gandhi and home to what is arguably the only major secular religion of the world. If there is any country with a right to morality it is India despite the supposed deficiencies blown out of proportion by our ninny homegrown liberals.
It is unfortunate that, even 70 years after Independence and in the midst of a powerful indigenous renaissance there are cohorts who jump to attention at the monosyllabic rebukes from the West without even pausing to evaluate its validity as if we are an errant child—an ingrained inferiority complex.
We need to move past this. We cannot be apologetic. Instead, we need to aggressively demolish these false claims and call out our detractors in no uncertain terms.
The USCIRF report is a fictional document, sans logic, sans facts and sans common sense. Not surprisingly two of its Commissioners chose to dissent. Commissioner Gary L. Bauer wrote: “I must dissent from…placing India in a gallery of rogue nations in which it does not belong.”
That is the truth, the report must be negated in totality