The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has voiced its concern over the recent incidents of mosque demolitions and expropriation in India, including the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on the site of the demolished Babri mosque.
USCIRF condemns Haldwani violence and mosque destruction
The USCIRF, an independent, bipartisan US federal government agency that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad, took to Twitter on February 9 to condemn the violence and demolition of a madrasa in Haldwani, Uttarakhand. The madrasa was allegedly built illegally on government land and was razed by the authorities on February 8, sparking protests and clashes between the locals and the police. Six people were killed and more than 60 were injured in the violence, which also saw a police station being set on fire by the mob.
USCIRF Commissioner David Curry said, “USCIRF is disturbed by the demolition and expropriation of mosques in India, including the recent destruction of a mosque in Uttarakhand and inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on the site of the demolished Babri mosque.”
USCIRF links mosque demolitions to Ram temple inauguration
The USCIRF also pointed out the connection between the mosque demolitions and the inauguration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, which took place on August 5, 2020. The Ram temple is being built on the site of the Babri mosque, which was demolished by Hindu extremists in 1992, triggering communal riots that killed more than 2,000 people. The Supreme Court of India, in a controversial verdict in November 2019, awarded the disputed land to the Hindu side and ordered the government to provide an alternative site for the Muslims to build a mosque.
The USCIRF had expressed its disappointment over the Supreme Court’s decision and said that it “undermines the religious freedom of Muslims and opens the door to more sectarian violence.” The USCIRF had also recommended that the US administration should designate India as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC) for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. However, the US State Department did not accept this recommendation and instead placed India on a ‘Special Watch List’ (SWL) for severe violations of religious freedom in 2020.
India rejects USCIRF’s allegations and interference
The Indian government has consistently rejected the USCIRF’s allegations and interference in its internal affairs. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) of India has said that the USCIRF’s reports are “biased and tendentious” and that they do not reflect the ground reality of India’s pluralistic and tolerant society. The MEA has also said that the USCIRF has no locus standi to comment on India’s constitutional and legal provisions, which guarantee the fundamental rights of all its citizens, including the right to freedom of religion or belief.
The Indian government has also defended its actions regarding the mosque demolitions and the Ram temple inauguration, saying that they were done in accordance with the law and the court orders. The government has also claimed that the Haldwani violence was instigated by some anti-social elements who wanted to create communal disharmony and that the situation was brought under control by the police and the administration.
The Indian government has also accused the USCIRF of being influenced by certain vested interests and groups that have an agenda against India. The government has also questioned the credibility and impartiality of the USCIRF, which has been criticized by some US lawmakers and experts for being biased and politicized.