‘India’s top leadership should censure extremist rhetoric’

downloadWASHINGTON: India’s top leadership should speak more forcefully against “extremist rhetoric”, a top official of a US commission on religious freedom said as she termed denial of visa by India to members of the independent body as a “tremendous missed opportunity”.

“This (India) is the world’s largest democratic country of 1.25 billion people. The fact that they should somewhat be defensive about permitting commissioners and professionals from US Commission looking into protection of vital human rights, reveals weakness and not strength in my view,” Katrina Lantos-Swett, commissioner of US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), told PTI.

“I find it somewhat incomprehensible and a tremendous missed opportunity on the part of India,” said Lantos-Swett, who was scheduled to travel to India last week leading a USCIRF delegation along with other members.

This is the third time after 2001 and 2009 that India has failed to issue visas to the members of USCIRF, she said, adding that India is a great society and one of the most significant countries in the world.

“One would hope that a democratic and pluralistic society like India would welcome a visit from the commission,” she said, adding that the decision taken by the Indian Government is defensive.

“Pluralistic, incredibly diversified with huge challenges. We strongly feel that India would be strengthened in meeting these challenges if it could do a better job that it is currently doing by robustly protecting this fundamental human rights of religious consciousness and belief,” she said.

Lantos-Swett said there are some “very problematic laws” in some of the Indian states, and the issue of communal violence directed at religious minorities is a huge concern.

“We would welcome and would be delighted to see top leadership speaking out more forcefully, more unequivocally, more frequently about the unacceptability of the extremist rhetoric, let alone extremist actions, about the importance of religious freedom and tolerance and doing what could be done to speed up the wheels of justice and accountability for acts of violence against religious minorities,” Lantos-Swett said.

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan federal government commission with commissioners appointed by the US President and the leaders in both Houses of Congress. Responding to a question, Lantos-Swett welcomed some of the statements made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on ensuring religious freedom.

“We welcome that and encourage that. But it would be fair to say that we think he can do much more,” she said.

“More needs to be done, precisely because of the party that he represents. It would be very beneficial and very important for the Prime Minister to speak up with greater frequency, greater passion and greater clarity about the respect for freedom of religious consciousness and believe,” Lantos-Swett said.

She also called for “unequivocal condemnation” of acts of violence against religious freedom.

“Leaders have a unique platform to set the tone of a nation,” she said.

Given the historical background of Modi himself, he would have a “valuable megaphone to forcefully broadcast the massage” of zero tolerance for religious violence, bigotry, hatred, harassment, persecution and discrimination, she said.–PTI

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