WASHINGTON: The US regularly engages with Indian officials at all levels, encouraging them to uphold human rights obligations and commitments, including the protection of minorities, in keeping with India’s long tradition of democratic values and its history of tolerance, a senior State Department official in-charge of international religious freedom has said.
Speaking at a briefing on the 2020 International Religious Freedom Report released by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken presented at the State Department on Wednesday, Dan Nadel, the senior official for the Office of International Religious Freedom said American officials also meet continuously with civil society organisations, local religious communities, to hear their views and understand challenges and opportunities that they see.
The report took note of the message of “unity and brotherhood” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after members of the Tablighi Jamaat last year were being targeted in the wake of the first wave of COVID-19 in the country.
“Prime Minister Modi tweeted on April 19, “COVID-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or borders before striking.
Our response and conduct thereafter should attach primacy to unity and brotherhood.,” the State Department noted.
The India section of the annual report also mentioned the online address to the nation on April 26 by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in which he urged the people not to discriminate against anyone in the fight against COVID-19.
At the briefing, Nadel said US officials regularly engage with Indian government officials at all levels, encouraging them to uphold human rights obligations and commitments, including the protection of minorities, in keeping with India’s long tradition of democratic values and its history of tolerance.
“We also meet continuously with civil society organisations, local religious communities to hear their views and understand challenges and opportunities that they see,” Nadel said in response to a question on the general assessment of the US on the religious freedom situation in India.
When it comes to America’s overall encouragement to the Government of India, he said it is to engage these communities, these outside actors in direct discourse.
“Because when laws are passed, when initiatives are undertaken that are done without effective consultation with these communities, it creates a sense of disempowerment; at times, of alienation.
And the best way to address that is to engage in that direct dialogue between government and civil society, including religious communities,” he said.
“So with respect to India, I think there’s genuine opportunities there for the government to address some of the concerns they hear from Indian civil society through greater dialogue and engagement,” Nadel said.
India has previously rejected the US religious freedom reports, saying it sees no locus standi for a foreign government to pronounce on the state of its citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.
Earlier, releasing the report, Secretary of State Blinken said that anti-Semitism was on the rise worldwide, including in the United States, as well as across Europe.
It’s a dangerous ideology that history has shown is often linked with violence.
“We must vigorously oppose it wherever it occurs,” he said.
“Anti-Muslim hatred is still widespread in many countries, and this, too, is a serious problem for the United States, as well as in Europe.
We have work to do to ensure that people of all faiths and backgrounds are treated with equal dignity and respect.
As this report notes, some countries have taken positive steps forward, and that, too, deserves comment,” Blinken said.
Welcoming the report, the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations (FIACONA) president Koshy George claimed that he is worried that the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities continues even during the coronavirus lockdown.
“Prime Minister Modi’s silence on these critical issues is very disheartening,” he said.