India has hit out at a report by the United Statessaying religious intolerance was growing under its right-wing government, setting off a new spat ahead of a visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
An annual report on international religious freedomreleased by Pompeo on Friday said Hindu groups had used “violence, intimidation, and harassment” against Muslims and low-caste Dalits in 2017 to force a religion-based national identity.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government insisted that no foreign country had the right to criticise its record.
Pompeo is set to arrive in New Delhi on Tuesday for a trip intended to strengthen ties, but already complicated by spats over trade tariffs, data protection rules, US visas for Indians and buying arms from Russia.
The US religious freedom report said groups claiming to protect cows – considered sacred by Hindus – have attacked Muslims and Dalits. Christians have also been targeted for proselytising since Modi came to power in 2014.
“Despite Indian government statistics indicating that communal violence has increased sharply over the past two years, the Modi administration has not addressed the problem,” the report said.
The report, which examined attacks on religious minorities during 2018, said some senior officials from Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made “inflammatory speeches” mainly against Muslims, who make up 14 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people.
“Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumours that victims had traded or killed cows for beef,” the report said.
It also noted reports by non-governmental organisations that the government sometimes failed to act on mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalised communities, and critics of the government.
The Indian foreign ministry rejected the report, saying there was no right “for a foreign entity/government to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights”.
“India is proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a long-standing commitment to tolerance and inclusion,” spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a statement.
“The Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens, including its minority communities.”
The United States has sought to boost ties with India as a counterweight to China, and both US President Donald Trump and Modi have highlighted their good relationship.
However, India last week imposed higher import tariffs on 28 US items in retaliation to Washington’s recent withdrawal of trade privileges for New Delhi.
Pompeo wants to use his New Delhi trip to lay the ground for a Trump-Modi meeting at the G20 Summit in Osaka this month. It will be their first since Modi’s new landslide election win last month.
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