Minorities are under increasing assault in India, a bipartisan US commission mandated to monitor religious freedom globally said on Tuesday, placing it in a list of 14 nations including Pakistan, China and North Korea for the first time since 2004.
Rejecting the findings of the annual report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) that include particular criticism of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), India said the panel's "misrepresentation has reached new levels".
The comment came after the USCIRF recommended India as a "Country of Particular Concern" where "governments engage in or tolerate systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom".
Countries of Particular Concern in #USCIRFAnnualReport2020: Burma, China, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam— USCIRF (@USCIRF) April 28, 2020
Accusing the government of creating "a culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities", the USCIRF called for "targeted sanctions against Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom".
"In 2019, following the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) re-election in May, the national government used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims," the report said.
"Home Minister Amit Shah referred to migrants as 'termites' to be eradicated... in Uttar Pradesh (UP), the BJP chief minister Yogi Adityanath pledged 'revenge' against anti-CAA protestors and stated they should be fed 'bullets not biryani'," it added.
"In February 2020, three days of violence erupted in Delhi with mobs attacking Muslim neighborhoods. There were reports of Delhi police, operating under the Home Ministry's authority, failing to halt attacks and even directly participating in the violence," the report said.
India rejected the findings, with Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava saying, "We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF Annual Report. Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels. It has not been able to carry its own Commissioners in its endeavour. We regard it as an organisation of particular concern and will treat it accordingly."
Two of the nine members of the USCIRF also expressed dissent over the USCIRF recommendation to place India in the CPC and a third member expressed his personal view on India, news agency PTI reported.
"India does not belong to the same category as authoritarian regimes like China and North Korea. India is the largest democratic nation in the world, where the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) has been challenged openly by the opposition Congress Party and lawmakers, civil society, and various groups," said Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee.
Established by the US Government in 1998 after the inaction of the International Religious Freedom Act, recommendations of USCIRF are non-binding to the State Department.
Traditionally, India does not recognise the view of the USCIRF. For more than a decade, it has denied visas to members of the USCIRF.