A report by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom is doing the rounds and securing column space in most major dailies this morning. One key finding that is repeatedly finding prominence in its 2016 annual report is the Commission’s take on India. According to this report, “Religious freedom in India was on a “negative trajectory” in 2015 as religious tolerance “deteriorated” and religious freedom violations “increased.”
My biggest question is what are the parameters and the ground realities that have been taken into account. This is especially relevant for an organisation which has much publicised the fact that they have been denied visa by the Indian authorities just a month back. So how did they access the ground realities in India in a month to formulate the report without even entering the country? The alleged report claims, “Minority communities, especially Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups.” For someone who has not set foot outside the country for more than seven days in the past year, I am frankly baffled!
And does crimes committed against minority groups only tantamount to religious intolerance? What about crimes committed against a majority religious group? Are the followers of that religion born with the fate to get persecuted! Are we to believe that all these minority religions have not been involved in any act of communal violence apart from the victims as the report claims? Most of the acts of violence that have been mentioned have been against followers of Christianity. Does it mean it is okay to commit gruesome violence against the followers of Hindu religion or say Buddhists?
Another fact that is extremely disturbing about this report is no doubt the timing chosen to make this public. It is little more than a month before PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington where he is also scheduled to address joint session of the US Congress. Would it be fair to assume that the release date of the report is politically motivated?
My third reservation with the entire basis of the report is the segregated fashion in which facts have been portrayed. Nearly 80-90% of the report talks about atrocities committed in the name of religion across developing countries or the third world countries. The mention of other countries almost appears by chance without substantial evidence or detailing. That makes me wonder if this is mere coincidence or there is more to this story than what meets our eyes?
Any report that strives to make a point about the growing global trend has to be assessed in a free and fair manner without political or economic motivation. The initiative by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom seems to lack this very essence and appears extremely one sided to say the least!