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RELIGION AND FREEDOM: ON INDIA AND COMMUNAL VIOLENCE

Introduction

Religious freedom is of paramount importance, not because it is about religion, but because it is about freedom.

USCIRF Characterisation of India

  • The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) characterised India as a country of particular concern, in its annual report.
  • The Indian government repudiated the report.
  • The U.S. has used arguments of freedom, democracy, tolerance, and transparency as tools in its strategic pursuits, but there is no proof of any uniform or predictable pattern of enforcement of such moral attributes.
  • Whether or not the U.S. government acts on its recommendation to impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials depends on American strategic interests.
  • Such reports contribute to the construction of an image of a country, and the Indian government is cognisant of this pattern.
  • In March, the Indian government told Niti Aayog to track 32 global indices and engage with the bodies that measure them, to advance reform and growth.

Conclusion

  • India advertises itself as a multi-religious democracy and as an adherent to global norms of rule of law. It also aspires to be on the table of global rule making. For a country with such stated ambitions, its record on religious freedom as reflected through events of the last one year is deeply disconcerting.
  • Reputation is important for a country’s economic development and global standing but beyond that instrumental perspective, rule of law and communal harmony are essential for any functioning democracy.
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September 2022
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