Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit, top US Senators have expressed deep concern over religious freedom, increasing attack on civil society and human rights in India with the Obama Administration saying it was having a dialogue with the country on these issues.
“The situation does raise concern about religious freedom in India,” Colorado Senator Cory Gardner said during a Congressional hearing on India convened by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, while expressing his concern on recent incidents of religious intolerance when artists returned their awards, said he is hoping to raise this issue with Prime Minister Modi when he travels to Washington DC next month.
Describing the anti-conversion laws in some states as problematic, Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, a Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concern over religious freedom in India.
Some of the members also raised the issue of denying visas to the members of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Agreeing with the concerns of the Senators, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal said while the Obama Administration has been raising these issues and concerns at the highest level and is having a dialogue with India on this issue, it is the vibrant civil society of India which is itself the most robust and string voice on this.
“There has been fairly vigorous and vociferous debate within India with respect to religious freedom and religious tolerance,” Biswal said, adding that there is no more robust voice than the voice of the Indian people that is taking up these issues with increasing vigour and public debate.
“It is on the headlines of Indian newspapers that you are seeing a very active engagement on this issue. I think, these are issues, these are values that we hold very dear, that we bring into the conversation. But we try to do it in a constructive way possible to not take away the fact that these are issues that Indian must grapple with and get right for their own country, for their own democracy, for their own society,” Biswal said in response to a question.
“And that we in the United States have experiences to share, lessons to share, best practices to share. But we seek to do that in a way that respects and honours the fact that this democracy has a very vibrant and a very vocal civil society and media and political party system that is also trying to get this right,” she said.
Cardin alleged that India has inconsistent record in the manner in which they treat women and girls.