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US panel says India religious freedom worsens significantly

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Protesters voice opposition to religious violence at a December 2021 rally in New Delhi after Indian police launched an investigation into an event where Hindu hardliners called for mass killings of minority Muslims. AFP

US panel says India religious freedom worsens significantly

Religious freedom has deteriorated “significantly” in India under the Hindu nationalist government, a US commission said Monday as it again recommended targeted sanctions over abuses.

It was the third straight year that the US Commission on International Religious Freedom asked that India be placed on a list of “countries of particular concern” – a recommendation that has angered New Delhi and is virtually certain to be dismissed by the State Department.

In an annual report, the panel – which is appointed to offer recommendations but does not set US policy – voiced wide concern about South Asia and also backed the State Department’s inclusion of Pakistan on the blacklist.

In India, the commission pointed to “numerous” attacks on religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, in 2021 as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government promoted “its ideological vision of a Hindu state” through policies hostile to minorities.

“Religious freedom conditions in India significantly worsened,” the report said.

It pointed to a “culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of threats and violence by mobs and vigilante groups” and arrests of journalists and human rights advocates.

In a shift from the past two years, no one on the panel dissented from the recommendation on India, commissioner Anurima Bhargava told reporters.

The Indian government in previous years has angrily rejected the commission’s findings, accusing it of bias.

President Joe Biden, like Donald Trump before him, has sought to increase ties with India, seeing common cause in the face of a rising China.

Biden is expected to meet Modi next month in Tokyo as part of a four-way summit of the “Quad” with Japan and Australia.

The commission also recommended adding Afghanistan to the blacklist following the triumph of the Taliban and relisting Nigeria, which was removed by the Biden administration.

The countries on the State Department’s religious freedom blacklist, which can trigger sanctions, are China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

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