US Report Highlights Rising Anti-Conversion Laws and Religious Freedom Violations in India

Featured & Cover US Report Highlights Rising Anti Conversion Laws and Religious Freedom Violations in India

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has expressed concern over the rise in anti-conversion laws, hate speech, and the demolition of homes and places of worship belonging to minority faith communities in India. Speaking at the release of the annual State Department report on international religious freedom, Blinken noted that while these issues are escalating, efforts to protect religious freedom continue globally.

The report highlights that senior US officials have persistently raised issues related to religious freedom with their Indian counterparts throughout 2023. Blinken remarked, “In India, we see a concerning increase in anti-conversion laws, hate speech, demolitions of homes and places of worship for members of minority faith communities. At the same time, people around the world are also working hard to protect religious freedom.”

In India, ten out of 28 states have laws restricting religious conversions across all faiths. Some states impose additional penalties specifically targeting forced religious conversions for marriage. The 2023 Report on International Religious Freedom indicated that members of religious minority groups have questioned the government’s capability and willingness to protect them from violence, investigate crimes against them, and ensure their freedom of religion or belief.

The Indian government has previously dismissed the US State Department’s annual human rights report, labeling it as based on “misinformation and flawed understanding.” The Ministry of External Affairs stated last year, “Motivated and biased commentary by some US officials only serves to undermine further the credibility of these reports. We value our partnership with the U.S. and will continue to have frank exchanges on issues of concern to us.”

This year’s report noted that Christians and Muslims were arrested under laws prohibiting forced religious conversions. Religious groups claim these laws are sometimes misused to harass and imprison members of minority faiths on false charges or for lawful religious activities.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has renewed calls for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) at the national level, as outlined in the Constitution, to replace the system of separate personal laws for religious communities. The report states that Muslim, Sikh, Christian, and tribal leaders, along with some state officials, oppose the UCC initiative, viewing it as part of an agenda to transform India into a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu Nation). Proponents of the UCC, including opposition politicians, argue it would foster greater equality, particularly for women, by eliminating practices like polygamy and unequal inheritance within personal religious laws.

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) welcomed the report, noting it aligns with findings from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which has called for India to be designated as a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)” for severe violations of religious freedoms for minorities. IAMC executive director Rasheed Ahmed stated, “Once again, it is clear from the State Department’s own reporting that India more than qualifies as a CPC. Now it is time for Secretary Blinken to act on these facts, as well as the facts that have been presented by USCIRF for years, and designate India as a CPC.”

The annual State Department report on international religious freedom has shed light on the troubling increase in anti-conversion laws, hate speech, and demolitions targeting minority faith communities in India. The report emphasizes the persistent efforts of US officials to address these concerns with Indian authorities and highlights the broader global efforts to protect religious freedom. While the Indian government continues to reject these findings as biased, organizations like the IAMC urge the US to take definitive action in response to the documented violations.

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