Washington, DC: India has denied visas to a team from the United States government responsible for monitoring religious freedom, the group said in a statement last week.
The organization, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, had planned a trip to India, scheduled to begin this week, to assess religious liberty in the country. But India has not issued visas to members of the commission, it said. Robert P. George, the group’s chairman, said that the team was “deeply disappointed” by the Indian government’s action. “As a pluralistic, nonsectarian and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit,” he said.
The group has traveled to China, Myanmar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, “among the worst offenders on religious freedom,” he said. India has had a checkered history with religious violence, and the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014 raised concerns about the potential for increased religious tensions.
Debates over the issue heated up after a Muslim man accused of eating beef near the capital was beaten to death by a mob last year. Cows are sacred for Hindus, and their slaughter is prohibited in much of the country. A preliminary investigation found that the meat retrieved from the home of the man who was beaten to death was goat.
In a report published last year, the commission said that religiously motivated violent incidents reportedly increased for three consecutive years in India, and that the struggle to provide justice to victims “perpetuates a climate of impunity.”
The Indian Embassy in Washington said in a statement that there had been no change in policy regarding such visits and that the Indian Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion for its citizens. “We do not see the locus standi of a foreign entity like Uscirf to pass its judgment and comment on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights,” it said.