Religious freedom activists and several other groups in the US have urged India prime minister Narendra Modi to take all necessary measures to curb the rise of Hindutva extremism and punish groups involved in violence against religious minorities in the country.
The request was made during a briefing titled ‘Religious Freedom in India: A Briefing on Capitol Hill’, organised by the Indian-American Muslim Council, at the US Capitol on Thursday which was attended by activists, Congressional staffs, State Department officials, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and civil society members.
“The failure of prime minister Modi to definitively condemn and to definitively distance himself from the extreme elements of his party has played a substantial and significant role in bringing about the situation that we see today,” said Katrina Lantos Swett, former Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
India maintains that its Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens including the right to freedom of religion and the USCIRF has no locus standi to pass its comment on Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.
The participants urged Modi to condemn such violence against religious minorities as well as take all necessary measures to curb the rise of Hindutva extremism and punish the Hindutva groups involved in violence.
Swett, the daughter of Tom Lantos – the only Holocaust survivor to have ever been elected to US Congress and who founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus – said that Muslims and Christians are the “primary victims”.
“Inflammatory rhetoric and a conception of India’s national identity increasingly based on religion have contributed to an atmosphere of intimidation, exclusion, and even violence directed at non-Hindus,” Swett alleged.
Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, said If the prime minister were to condemn acts of aggression and violence and push for prosecution, this (violence) would fairly quickly dry up. “But it’s not happening,” King said.
He also urged Modi to “condemn acts of aggression and violence” and allow a team of USCIRF to visit India on a fact-finding mission.
Matthew Bulger, Legislative Director of the American Humanist Association, alleged that several Indian laws and policies “restrict religious freedom rights” and have led to arrests and prosecution of individuals, “which is just unacceptable”.
Rev. Sarah C. Anderson-Rajarigam, a Dalit Christian Lutheran church priest from Philadelphia, alleged that the status of Dalits had worsened under the Modi government.