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Christian leaders reflect on USCIRF's recommendation and government leader's rejection
Friday, May 22, 2020, 21:29 (IST)
In the 2020 annual report released last month, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that the State Department add India to its list of countries that engage in or tolerate egregious violations of religious freedom.
According to the report, violence against Christians in India increased in 2019 and there were at least 328 reported incidents of Christian persecution in 2019.
The commission said that the attacks "frequently targeted prayer services and led to the widespread shuttering or destruction of churches."
USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins told in a press conference that "India has been on USCIRF's tier two list since 2010. This is a country we've been watching very closely, and the trends have been very negative and concerning."
Government leaders in the country condemned the USCIRF report and rejected its recommendation.
"We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF Annual Report," Anurag Srivastava, External Affairs spokesperson, told the Hindustan Times.
Srivastava claimed that USCIRF's "biased and tendentious comments" against India are "not new."
Pointing to this particular occasion, Srivastava said, USCIRF's "misrepresentation has reached new levels. We regard [USCIRF] as an organization of particular concern and will treat it accordingly."
In an interview with International Christian Concern (ICC), Dr. John Dayal, spokesperson for the United Christian Forum in India, was asked to reflect on USCIRF's recent recommendation.
He said, "It is not correct to say that religious minorities welcome India being declared a Country of Particular Concern. What citizen would want his or her motherland proved of being intolerant of its children?"
"The targeting of religious minorities, which has gotten worse in recent years and peaked in December 2019, leaves nothing to the imagination," Dr. Dayal continued. "The abuse, murders, assaults, police impunity, fake charges, false arrests, extrajudicial detentions, and the rest threatens to reduce tens of millions to the status of second-class citizens."
For Father Raja, who oversees around 500 Christian congregations across five states in the country, "Religious freedom is deteriorating year by year, and there is a growing fear among religious minorities, particularly among Christians."
When asked about the country's government leaders' rejection of USCIRF's recommendation, Father Raja said, "What they say and what they do does not match at all. If the government is denying the findings in the report, then they want to hide the facts to protect their international image."
"All we are asking is to be allowed to worship the God of our choice," he concluded.
ICC also interviewed Pastor Ramesh from Uttar Pradesh, who said, "There is no freedom for us to have a worship service, and we are not allowed to even gather during the weekdays for prayers."
"We are targeted, humiliated, and often beaten up physically because we follow the Christian faith. There is a sense of fear among the Christians because police always work along with the radicals. Even during the COVID-19 lockdown, radicals pass by our premises to see if we are conducting worship. They are ready to report on us if there is any," Pastor Ramesh added.