India (MNN) — India takes exception to a U.S. government panel report connecting the 2014 general election results to a spike in persecution of religious minorities.
“It really does seem that religious freedom has taken a hit under the Modi administration,” observes Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA. “The fact that India responded so aggressively to the report shows their desire to appear, within the international community, that they’re not persecuting Christians.”Nettleton goes on to explain that the details are from the 2015 Annual Report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). “It is basically recommendations which then go to the State Department, and the State Department makes the final decisions about what to do with the report.”
The law that created this Commission actually authorizes the administration to go to the point of sanctions or go to the point of taking steps against these countries which have severely violated religious freedoms. Once the USCIRF issues its report, says Nettleton, “The teeth come with the State Department. If they go ahead and follow through with all of these recommendations, that really does put some teeth behind it and potentially, then it goes to the Executive Branch.”
According to the report, minority religious groups, such as Christians, have been subject to “numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups, such as RSS and VHP.” That claim was vigorously disputed by India’s External Affairs department.
Nettleton says, from their understanding of what’s happening on the ground, India should have been designated as a Country of Particular Concern: places where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are occurring. However, “They’re listed among what this report calls the ‘Tier 2’ countries, which don’t rise to the level of Countries of Particular Concern…. I honestly think India could have, particularly as we’ve seen an increase in the attacks and persecution since Prime Minister Modi took power last year.” It means India joins seven other countries being put on a watch list for problems but not quite earning the CPC designation (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, and Turkey).
The USCIRF made six recommendations to the U.S. government to address these issues (Read them here). In the meantime, Nettleton says even with the ongoing oppression, followers of Christ are trusting God. “They know as they do ministry, as they do outreach, they understand the fact that they can be targeted for that. It makes them think, it makes them more faithful in prayer and understanding that their times are in God’s hands.”
Theirs is a story of bewildering hope. Why bewildering? In spite of the pressure, they’re still sharing their stories about what Jesus Christ has done in their lives. Instead of doing what you’d expect–being silenced, they’re more confident. That confidence inspires hope in the God they serve. “Pray for encouragement, that they will not grow weary in the work that God has called them to do. I think we need to pray for protection. The government is not protecting them, so we need to pray that the Lord will protect them.”