India has yet again dismissed the US State Department 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom, calling it based on “misinformation and flawed understanding”.
In response to media queries regarding the matter, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said: “We are aware of the release of the US State Department 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom. Regrettably, such reports continue to be based on misinformation and flawed understanding”.
These were “motivated and biased commentary by some US officials” and only serves to undermine further the credibility of these reports, he said.
However, he also hastened to add, “We value our partnership with the US and will continue to have frank exchanges on issues of concern to us”.
On May 15, at a press conference, Rashad Hussain, Ambassador at Large, Office of International Religious Freedom of the US, said that “far too many Governments, including Russia, India, China and Saudi Arabia, continue to freely target faith community members within their borders”.
The US report, however, highlighted that in September 2022, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat met with five prominent members of the Muslim community to listen to their concerns and discuss how to promote communal harmony between Muslims and Hindus.
“Bhagwat reportedly committed to continued meetings for the purpose of improving relations between the Muslim and Hindu communities. Mohan Bhagwat also met with Umer Ahmed Ilyasi, head of the All India Imam Organisation, at a Delhi-area madrassah run by that organisation. Media reported that some Muslim groups welcomed Mohan Bhagwat’s engagement…,” the US report said.
The Congressional-mandatory annual “Report on International Religious Freedom” was released by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Notably, in December 2022, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken designated 12 countries, including China, Pakistan and Myanmar, as “countries of particular concern” for the current status of religious freedom in these nations. He said around the world, Governments and non-State actors harass, threaten, jail, and even kill individuals on account of their beliefs.
To a question at the media briefing, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price had then said that India was the world’s largest democracy and home to a great diversity of faiths.
The Biden administration will continue to encourage the Indian Government to uphold its commitments to protect religious freedom for all, the spokesperson said.
“We engage officials regularly on steps they can take to advance religious freedom. As the world’s two largest democracies, the United States and India, are also committed to an enduring project,” Price had said.
In fact, this is not the first time that Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesman Arindam Bagchi has hit out at the USCIRF.
“Regrettably, USCIRF continues to misrepresent facts time and again in its statements and reports in pursuance of its motivated agenda. Such actions only serve to strengthen concerns about the credibility and objectivity of the organisation,” Arindam Bagchi had said in July last year after it commented adversely on the arrest of social activist Teesta Setalvad.
Last month during an interaction in Bengaluru, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar said that the western countries have developed “a bad habit of commenting on others”.
Dr Jaishankar also made a veiled attack on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for his controversial remarks on foreign soil. “If somebody from here goes and says why are you standing by and saying nothing (on matters within India) then obviously they are going to comment. Part of the problem is them (west), part of the problem is us (leaders such as Rahul). And I think both need fixing,” the minister had said.
In reply to a questioner, the Minister said, “Do you want a truthful answer or a diplomatic one” and when the response was for a truthful response, Dr S Jaishankar said, “It is because the West has a bad habit of commenting on others. They somehow think it is some kind of God-given right. They will have to learn only by experience that if you keep doing this, other people will also start commenting and they will not like it when it happens. And I see that happening”.