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Ahead of PM Modi visit, US decries ‘targeted’ attacks and ‘home demolitions’ in India

Washington: One month before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first state visit to the US, the State Department of the US on Monday noted “targeted attacks” on minorities, “home demolitions” and hate speeches against Muslims in India among threats facing religious freedom around the world.

The State Department outlined in great detail “numerous reports during the year of violence by law enforcement authorities against members of religious minorities in multiple states” in India in its 2022 annual report on the state of freedom of religion around the world.

The report was released by Secretary of State Antony Blinken who noted both progress and “continuation, and in some instances, the rise of very troubling trends”.

Report highlights instances of violence against religious minority communities

The State Department report highlights instances of violence targeting individuals from religious minority communities, including cases of killings, assaults, and intimidation across several states throughout the year. These acts of violence often stem from allegations of cow slaughter or beef trade, leading to acts of “cow vigilantism” primarily directed towards non-Hindus.

Additionally, there have been incidents where Muslim men have been accused of marrying Hindu women with the intention of converting them to Islam. The report also sheds light on instances of communal violence between different religious groups.

According to the report, out of the 28 states in the country, thirteen have enacted laws that restrict religious conversions for all faiths. Furthermore, some of these states have specific penalties in place to address forced religious conversions associated with marriage. However, it is worth noting that historically, certain state high courts have dismissed cases brought forward under these laws.

Previewing the report earlier, a senior State Department official told reporters that regarding India the document outlined “continued targeted attacks against religious communities, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindu Dalits, and indigenous communities; dehumanizing rhetoric, including open calls for genocide against Muslims; lynching and other hate-fueled violence, attacks on houses of worship and home demolitions, and in some cases impunity and even clemency for those who’ve engaged in attacks on religious minorities – we’re also continuing to see, at the state level, some restrictions on religious attire”.

Rashad Hussain, the Ambassador at Large at the State Department for International Religious Freedom, cited the Hardwar speeches of December 2021 as particularly problematic.

“In India, legal advocates and faith leaders from across the country’s diverse religious communities condemned a case of extreme hate speech against Muslims in the city of Hardwar, calling for the country to uphold its historical traditions of pluralism and tolerance,” he said at the release of the report.

He was referring to a three-day meeting called the Dharma Sansad in December 2021, where speakers called for people to take up arms against Muslims.

A case was registered by the Uttarakhand police against the organiser. The other countries mentioned by Hussain were Russia, China, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia.

The State Department’s annual report has been critical of the state of religious freedom in India before, and, based on local news reports and accounts from civil society, it has listed instances and cases over the years.

India has rejected these unsolicited observations and remarks before and in recent years questioned America’s right to stand in judgment on other countries.

The US Commission on International Freedom have been far more critical of India and has recommended to the State Department to designate India as a “country of particular concerns” four times. But the State Department has not taken up its suggestion yet. These designations are to be announced later in the year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will embark on an official state visit to the United States on June 22. During his visit, PM Modi will be hosted by US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at a state dinner at the White House, the Ministry of External Affairs informed through a press statement on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a statement released by the White House read, “President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will host Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Republic of India for an Official State Visit to the United States, which will include a state dinner, on June 22, 2023.”

Earlier, PM Modi visited the United States on September 23, 2021.