The U.S. State Department’s failure to name India to its “Countries of Particular Concern” list despite reports of increasing attacks on Christians in the country list has sparked criticism from Christian groups and a congressionally mandated watchdog.
The U.S.-based group International Christian Concern has labeled the omission “a travesty of justice.”
“Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi’s stormtroopers from the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] … and Bajrang Dal attacked Pastors, lay Christians, and church buildings repeatedly in 2023,” said ICC President Jeff King said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. “There were at least 723 recorded attacks and many more that went unrecorded. Modi and the BJP are radical Hindus masquerading as believers in democracy and religious freedom.”
In its 2023 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended CPC designation for India and several other countries. Countries designated as CPC face the possibility of negative consequences, including potential crippling sanctions. Groups like the U.S.-based ICC have advocated for India’s inclusion, citing evidence of escalating Christian persecution.
USCIRF, a bipartisan commission tasked with advising the federal government and Congress on international religious freedom concerns, expressed disappointment with the State Department’s decision not to label India and Nigeria a CPC despite evidence of religious freedom violations and called for a congressional hearing.
“In India, in addition to perpetrating egregious religious freedom violations within its borders, the government has increased its transnational repression activities targeting religious minorities abroad and those advocating on their behalf,” USCIRF Chair Abraham Cooper and Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie said in a joint statement.
“We met with the State Department on many occasions to sound the alarm about these countries, but not all of our recommendations have been followed. We will not be deterred and will continue our role as a congressionally mandated watchdog to ensure the U.S. government prioritizes religious freedom as a key component of U.S. foreign policy.”
King highlighted the role of India’s ruling party, the BJP, and its affiliate, Bajrang Dal, in these attacks. He accused Prime Minister Modi and the BJP of being “radical Hindus masquerading as believers in democracy and religious freedom.”
The United Christian Forum reported 23 targeted attacks in the last week of 2023 alone. Incidents included the arrest of five pastors in India for hosting a Christmas worship service, denial of Christian burial rights in Chhattisgarh and abuse of a female pastor in Punjab.
ICC’s annual “Persecutors of the Year” report details these attacks, emphasizing the BJP’s strategy to suppress Christianity. According to King, this involves Modi’s silence on the attacks and hate speech by state BJP leaders, which incites violence against Christians.
Christians, constituting about 2.3% of India’s population, have faced increasing suppression.
The United Christian Forum documented a significant rise in attacks since 2014 after the BJP won the national election.
The first half of 2023 saw a surge in violence across 23 states, with 400 incidents reported, up from 274 in the previous year. The UCF attributes this to a sense of “impunity” among vigilante mobs, often leading to physical assaults and false accusations of forcible conversions.
Watchdog group Open Doors earlier stated that “The driving force behind this is Hindutva, an ideology that disregards Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians because they have allegiances that lie outside India, and asserts the country should be purified of their presence.”
Some Christians in India perceive the State Department’s decision not to designate India as a CPC as a strategic move to prioritize interests in its rivalry with China for influence in Asia, thereby underscoring India’s role as a key ally. Christians argue that this decision could endanger their lives.
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