By Anubha Khan
United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken while releasing the 2021 International Religious Freedom Report (IRF) remarked that ‘Religious Freedom in India is under threat’. Blinken acknowledged that India is world’s largest democracy and home to a great diversity of faiths but at the same time put a blame on India by saying that ‘we have seen rising attacks on people and places of worship in India’. Blinken drew this conclusion on the basis of IRF 2021 Report. India is known for its diversity and religious freedom. USA has been a long-time friend and strategic partner of India. A secretary of State of US questioning religious tolerance in India on the basis of some report needs a critical analysis.
IRF Report highlights the death of Father Stan Swamy, an 84-year-old Jesuit Priest, to prove its point that Indian government repressed critical voices. Stan Swamy was arrested by National Investigation Agency (NIA) under the UAPA for his role in BhimaKoregaon violence. IRF mentioned in its report that Swamy died while in Judicial Custody despite repeated concern raised about his health. This selective reporting missed (knowingly or unknowingly) some vital facts. For instance, on the order of High Court, Taluja jail authorities took Swamy to Sir JJ Hospital for Covid test and for getting treatment for other age related ailments. It was Swamy who told Justice S J Kathawalla that he would prefer to die in jail than being admitted to JJ Hospital. A couple of days later, Swamy was shifted to Holy Family Hospital which provided the best available treatment to him. Before falling for the ‘oldest person tried under UAPA’ debate, its important to know that as per the charge sheet of NIA, Swamy was a CPI (Maoist) cadre and received funds from them. He was also a convenor of Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee- a frontal organisation for CPI (Maoist). Needless to mention that hundreds of security forces and civilians have been killed by CPI (Maoist) cadres till date. Adding to this, several incriminating documents, literature and propaganda material were recovered from him during raid by NIA. This leaves us with an important question- Can securing the country from inimical forces be called as repressing critical voices?
Arrest and trial of so called human rights activist KhurramParvez has been cited by IRF Report to prove its point of religious persecution in India. The report surprisingly fails to mention the fact that Khurram along with others was arrested on serious charges of terror funding and terrorism which has direct implications on India’s national security. The report also fails to mention that an IPS officer Arvind DigvijayNegi (earlier posted with NIA) was also arrested by NIA for being a part of the over ground network of dreaded terroristorganisation Lashkar e Taiba (LeT) in India along with Khurram and other accused. This prompts us to ask this question- Is detecting and severing internal links of a terrorist organisation be termed as culling independent voices?
Its an open secret that numerous fake news wascirculated on social media related to last year’s Tripura Violence. Tripura Police found 68 Twitter accounts, 31 Facebook accounts and 2 YouTube channels circulating fake news about alleged Tripura Violence. IRF report did mention the filing of cases under UAPA in Tripura but again failed to mention the fact that another non BJP ruled state Maharashtra found 36 social media posts sharing fake messages on social media related to Tripura Violence. These fake messages not only deteriorated the law & order situation in Tripura but also, throughout the country. Independent fact checking entity ‘Alt News’ verified most of such posts to be fake and originating from neighbouring Bangladesh. Now, if the police is taking action against such culprits, how does it amounts to religious persecution in India?
Use of UAPA in J&K has been highlighted in the IRF Report and J&K has been projected as a victim of one sided action by the administration as it is a Muslim majority UT in a Hindu majority nation. As expected, the IRF Report fails to mention the heinous acts of terrorism carried out in J&K since last couple of years (or more correctly in last 3 decades). This week alone (between last week of May and first week of June, 2022), three Hindus were killed in Kashmir with hundreds of Kashmiri Pundits leaving the valley due to a fresh spate of targeted killings. Plenty of material is available on the net about instances of terrorism in Kashmir, there is nothing to hide. Its again surprising that IRF just reported one side of the story.
To justify its allegations, IRF Report further quoted cancellation of FCRA licence of religious organisations like Missionaries of Charity (MoC). Highlighting the case of MoC and choosing to omit the fact that FCRA licence of close to 6000 NGOs were also cancelled during the same period. It was not as if MoC was targeted alone. IRF Report presented MoC case as selective targeting but the facts speak otherwise. Needless to say that after careful scrutiny of the case and keeping in mind the future of those associated with MoC, MHA renewed the licence of MoC despite the fact that adverse inputs were reported against them. This itself shows that the action on part of authorities had nothing to do with religion but based on technical aspects. A similar action can’t even be imagined for a religion based (non-Muslim) organisation in the neighbouring Pakistan.
As regards anti-conversion laws, arrest of Umar Gautam in forced religious conversion case revealed the extent of illegal conversions through allurement or pressure. Article 25 provides for freedom to freely profess, practice and propagate one’s own religion, subject to public order, morality and health. Religious conversion of a physically challenged man and that too under allurement and pressure, certainly doesn’t fall under the criteria of ‘morality’. All the religious conversion laws prohibit illegal conversions in respective states. These laws are not central laws and are drafted by states concerned. Those doing religious conversions legally have nothing to fear from such laws. IRF choose to omit these facts while reporting on anti-conversion laws.
USCIRF recommended India to be a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC). Shaik Ubaid, founder of Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), co-founded the Coalition Against Genocide along with Angana Chatterjee, who in turn, is well connected to USCIRF Commissioner Nadine Maenza. IAMC has hired the lobbying firm Fidelis Government Relations (FGR) to influence USCIRF to declare India as CPC. IAMC has organised several webinars on Indian issues like Hijab row, Uniform Civil Code etc. and USCIRF Commissioner Nadine Maenza was a regular participant in such events. IAMC has proved linkages with Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), which is connected with Jel, LeT and HizbulMuzahideen (all Pakistan based banned terrorist organisations) and SIMI (banned terrorist organisation in India). This puts a question mark on the neutrality of USCIRF report on India. Those representing public offices like Blinken, must find out the truth and publicly denounce the findings of USCIRF report.
(The views expressed in the article are personal to the author. It has nothing to do with janlekh.com management.)