The State Department Must Designate India A “Country of Particular Concern”
"USCIRF have long called for India to be on the list [and] expressed dismay at the State Department's decision and immediately called for a congressional hearing."
Arjun Singh Sethi
January 10, 2024 | 2.5 min. read | Opinion
The State Department released its annual report on religious freedom last week and failed, once again, to designate India a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). The agency shared the report pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which requires any country engaging in or tolerating “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” to be deemed a CPC.
Human rights defenders and The United States Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF) have long called for India to be on the list; the latter expressed dismay at the State Department's decision and immediately called for a congressional hearing.
“There is no justification as to why the State Department did not designate Nigeria or India as a Country of Particular Concern, despite its own reporting and statements. USCIRF calls on Congress to convene a public hearing on the failure of the State Department to follow our recommendations,” USCIRF Chair Abraham Cooper and Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie said in a press release.
They add that “In India, in addition to perpetrating egregious religious freedom violations within its borders, the government has increased its transnational repression activities targeting religious minorities abroad and those advocating on their behalf,” a nod to the recent indictment against Nikhil Gupta, an Indian national that appears to have worked with Indian state actors in a failed assassination attempt of an American citizen on American soil.
The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity that was established by the U.S. Congress to report on religious freedom abroad. The body makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress with the goal of deterring religious persecution as well as promoting freedom of religion around the world.
A cursory review of the record shows that India should have been added.
PM Modi, the ruling BJP party, and the RSS have promulgated laws that strip Muslims in India of their citizenship and criminalize religious conversion and interfaith relationships; routinely use draconian national security laws to persecute faith leaders, religious expression, and journalism and art that documents this abuse; created a culture of impunity where hate violence proliferates culminating in the destruction of homes, houses of worship and mob lynchings; and pursued a transnational assassination campaign targeting Sikhs across the world.
The Biden administration believes that these issues are best addressed confidentially through private channels, which is likely why the State Department gave India a pass. But this approach isn’t working; in fact, it’s counterproductive.
As the White House and Congress look away, or worse, celebrate Modi, just as they did in June with a joint address and state dinner, his government continues to weaken democratic institutions and curtail minority and human rights, all without consequence from its closest ally.
Modi has called Biden’s bluff.
Apart from congressional hearings on this grave mistake by the State Department, there needs to be a fundamental reimagining of U.S.-India relations characterized by transparency, openness, and accountability.
More immediately, the U.S. must demand the immediate extradition of Nikhil Gupta from the Czech Republic in the SDNY transnational assassination matter, which the Modi government vehemently opposes. A public trial would help reveal the scale and depth of the transnational repression program and cast much-needed light on the authoritarian and fascist forces suffocating India today.
A version of this opinion piece first appeared on Sethi’s Substack, The Reimagining.
Arjun Singh Sethi is an author, community activist, human rights lawyer, and law professor based in Washington, D.C.
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