U.S. hearing on religious freedom in India postponed due to ‘overwhelming response’

We want to be able to accommodate more attendees and participants, says official

December 11, 2018 08:32 pm | Updated 08:32 pm IST - Washington DC

A bipartisan hearing on religious freedom in India, scheduled for Wednesday, has been postponed due to an “overwhelming response” from stakeholders. The hearing, titled, Freedom of Religion or Belief in India: Rising Challenges & New Opportunities for U.S. Policy was announced on December 4 by its organisers, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan , independent federal government commission.

The hearing had to be, “rescheduled for May 13th due to the overwhelming response we received. We want to be able to accommodate more attendees and participants,” Kellie Boyle, of Boyle Public Affairs and in charge of the USCIRF’s communications, told The Hindu via email on Monday.

The 2018 USCIRF Annual Report placed India in Tier 2 which is a list of nations “in which the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government during 2017 are serious and characterised by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious’ CPC [ country of particular concern or a Tier 1 country] standard.” India has been in this category as per the Commission since 2009. Other countries in the category for 2018 were Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey.

“…in 2017 actors tied to Hindu extremist groups regularly harassed, intimidated, and perpetrated violence against Hindu Dalits, Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs. Anti-conversion and anti-cow slaughter laws were routinely used to discriminate against religious minorities or as a pretext for extrajudicial violence…These and similar issues have continued in 2018,” USCIRF says on its website as part of the reasoning for holding a hearing, which will hear from “witnesses representing a broad array of perspectives” about India.

“As the world’s largest democracy, India has claim to a noble tradition of interreligious harmony, Ahimsa, tolerance and pluralism that is being threatened today,” USCIRF Chair, Tenzin Dorjee, originally a Tibetan refugee from India said.

Ms. Boyle said a new date had to be picked keeping the schedules of eight USCIRF commissioners in mind in addition to the scale of the response.

“We just want to be as inclusive as possible in this process,” she said to The Hindu over the phone on Wednesday. Ms Boyle also confirmed that that “there was no consideration of the annual report [USCIRF’s report published each year on May 1] or India’s election when the hearing was postponed.”

The Hindu reached out to the Indian Embassy in Washington DC for comment but did not receive any.

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