New Delhi: Religious freedom in India was on a "negative trajectory" in 2015 as religious tolerance "declined" and religious freedom violations "increased", according to US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
The USCIRF, in its 2016 annual report, also suggested that the Indian government publicly rebuke officials and religious leaders that make derogatory statements about religious communities.
Pointing out that it will continue to monitor the situation closely during 2016 to understand if India should be recommended to the State Department for designation as a "country of particular concern," USCIRF advised the US government to integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateral contacts with India, including the framework of future Strategic Dialogues.
USCIRF reports are not binding on the State Department. Interestingly the report comes a little more than a month before PM Narendra Modi's bilateral visit to Washington where he is also scheduled to address joint session of the US Congress.
"In 2015, religious tolerance deteriorated and religious freedom violations increased in India," the report said. "Minority communities, especially Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups," the report alleged.
Earlier this year members of USCIRF was denied visas by the Indian government as was done by the UPA regime in the past. Interestingly though Katrina Lantos Swett, a commissioner at the USCIRF visited Dharamshala last week to attend a meet of Chinese dissidents.
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission, the first of its kind in the world, dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.
With PTI inputs