India rejects critical US religious freedom report

Indian Muslims sitting on the bank of the River Ganges in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh on May 3, 2019. India has rejected a US report that said religious intolerance was growing in the country.
Indian Muslims sitting on the bank of the River Ganges in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh on May 3, 2019. India has rejected a US report that said religious intolerance was growing in the country.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India hit out on Sunday (June 23) at a US report saying religious intolerance was growing under its right-wing government, setting off a new spat ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

An annual report on international religious freedom released by Mr Pompeo last Friday said Hindu-groups had used "violence, intimidation, and harassment" against Muslims and low-caste Dalits in 2017 to force a religion-based national identity.

But Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government insisted that no foreign country had the right to criticise its record.

Mr Pompeo arrives in New Delhi on Tuesday for a trip intended to strengthen ties, but is already complicated by spats over trade tariffs, data protection rules, United States visas for Indians and buying arms from Russia.

The US religious freedom report said groups claiming to protect cows - considered sacred by Hindus - have attacked Muslims and Dalits. Christians have also been targeted for proselytising since Mr Modi came to power in 2014.

"Despite Indian government statistics indicating that communal violence has increased sharply over the past two years, the Modi administration has not addressed the problem," the report said.

The Indian foreign ministry rejected the report, saying there was no right "for a foreign entity/government to pronounce on the state of our citizens' constitutionally protected rights".

 

"India is proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion," spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a statement.

"The Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens, including its minority communities."

The US has sought to boost ties with India as a counterweight to China, and both US President Donald Trump and Mr Modi have highlighted their good relationship.

However, India last week imposed higher import tariffs on 28 US items in retaliation to Washington's recent withdrawal of trade privileges for New Delhi.

Mr Pompeo wants to use his New Delhi trip to lay the ground for a Trump-Modi meeting at the G-20 Summit in Osaka this month. It will be their first since Mr Modi's new landslide election win last month.

Mr Pompeo is also to give a speech on the future of the relationship between the two countries.