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10 Feb 2017

US panel witch-hunt rap on PM - 'Govt targeting NGOs, Dalits and minorities' ... US panel accuses the Indian government of using laws to target minority communities, Dalits and non-profit groups.

Charu Sudan Kasturi, TT, New Delhi, Feb. 9: A bipartisan panel set up by the White House and the US Congress has named Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a report that accuses the Indian government of using laws to target minority communities, Dalits and non-profit groups.
The ministry of external affairs hit back at the report published last night by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, questioning the "credibility" of its members.
The commission, whose current members were nominated either by former President Barack Obama or Congressional leaders of the Republican Party, like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnel, and Democratic Party, like Nancy Pelosi, has criticised India repeatedly in its annual reports.
But this is the first occasion in many years that the agency, which works as an advisory body to the US state department, has published a report specifically on India.
The report says violence against religious minorities in India has occurred under both Congress and BJP-ruled governments, but that attempts at intimidation, forced re-conversions and attacks on shrines and individuals have increased "following the victory of India's right-wing BJP in May 2014".
The report has argued that laws against religious conversion in multiple Indian states and statutes against cow slaughter are used by government and "Hindutva groups" to target religious minorities and Dalits.
It has also accused the government of a witch-hunt against non-profit groups that have challenged the Modi administration, including the Prime Minister himself, using the controversial Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA).
"Recently, the Indian government has been accused of targeting human rights activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband, Javed Anand, for allegedly violating the FCRA and receiving funds unlawfully," the report says. "Mrs. Setalvad is renowned for her supportive endeavours for victims of the 2002 anti-Muslim Gujarat riots. She has been campaigning to seek criminal charges against Indian officials, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for their alleged involvement in the anti-Muslim riots."
The Indian foreign office said it had "rejected" the annual reports of the commission in the past too, and refused to "take cognisance" of the latest report.
"We have serious doubts on their credibility," foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said. "Government does not see the locus standi of a foreign entity like USCIRF to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens' constitutionally protected rights."
But the latest report echoes concerns the US state department has raised repeatedly with India too, especially on the perceived efforts by the Modi government to clamp down on American non-profit agencies. Some, like the Ford Foundation, have faced enhanced scrutiny of their funding because they financed projects run by Setalvad. Others have been blacklisted for allegedly proselytising with an aim to convert Hindus to Christianity.
"The FCRA controls foreign funding for NGOs, but the government has used it to block funds to hamper the activities of NGOs that question or condemn the government or its policies," the report says.
The report has questioned the Modi government's decision to bring in a law allowing foreign funding for political parties while enforcing a stricter regime against non-profit groups.
It has recommended to the US state department that Washington should "identify Hindutva groups that raise funds from US citizens and support hate campaigns in India".
"Such groups should be banned from operating in the United States if they are found to spread hatred against religious minorities in India," the report recommends.
The report refers to vigilante groups claiming to protect cows, and to the so-called ghar wapsi - homecoming - as a term to justify forced reconversion.
"Hindu ultranationalist organisations during the 2014 election campaign of Prime Minister Modi widely used the slogans, Modi ko matdan, gai ko jeevan dan (Vote for Modi, give life to the cow) and BJP ka sandesh, bachegi gai, bachega desh (BJP's message, the cow will be saved, the country will be saved)," the report says.

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