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India rejects US report on religious freedom; says it’s proud of secular credentials

India on Sunday rejected the US State Department’s 2018 International Religious Freedom report which, among other things, claims that “mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities” continued throughout the year.

“We see no locus standi for a foreign entity/government to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in response to questions.

India, he said, was proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion. “The Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens, including its minority communities,” he added.

The spokesperson said it was widely acknowledged that India was a vibrant democracy where the Constitution provided protection of religious freedom and where democratic governance and rule of law further promoted and protected the fundamental rights.

The BJP also slammed the report and said that it showed a clear bias against the Modi government. “The basic presumption in this report that there is some grand design behind anti-minority violence is simply false. On the contrary, in most of such cases, these instances are carried out as a result of local disputes and by criminal mindsets. Whenever needed, PM Modi and other BJP leaders have strongly deplored violence against minorities and weaker sections of the society,” said BJP national media head Anil Baluni.

The report, released by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, covers policies of governments in different countries violating religious belief and practices of groups, religious denominations and individuals, and American policies to promote religious freedom around the world. Incidentally, the report has come just days before Pompeo’s visit to India. It was not clear if India would take it up with Pompeo during talks in New Delhi.

In its chapter on India, the report speaks about mob-related violence, religious conversions, the legal status of minorities and government policies. It claims that central and state governments in India took steps to affect Muslim practices and institutions. “The government continued its challenge in the Supreme Court to the minority status of Muslim educational institutions, which affords them independence in hiring and curriculum decisions. Proposals to rename Indian cities with Muslim provenance continued, most notably the renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj. Activists said these proposals were designed to erase Muslim contributions to Indian history and had led to increased communal tensions,” it adds.

It also talks about reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism, and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytize.

The report observes that the authorities often failed to prosecute perpetrators of “cow vigilante” attacks, which included killings, mob violence, and intimidation.

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