'Human rights, freedom of religion deteriorating in India'

Washington - Observing that the two years of Modi government have resulted in deterioration in human rights and religious freedom in India, rights activists have called for making the issue as part of the US regular dialogue with India.

"Progress on human rights in India will continue to falter unless the Modi administration takes better steps to ensure justice and accountability for all citizens, protect vulnerable communities, and protect the free exchange of ideas and dissent," said John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch.

Lack of effective implementation of laws and policies remain a persistent challenge, Sifton said during a hearing on "Challenges & Opportunities: The Advancement of Human Rights in India" organised by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Tuesday.

Government officials are not held accountable and impunity persists for police and other security personnel who are shielded by laws from being prosecuted for serious human rights abuses, he claimed.

"We urge members of Congress to press the United States to prioritise these vital issues with India's government, and to raise them directly in interactions with the Indian government, in the months and years ahead," Sifton said during the Tuesday hearing, held soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met US President Barack Obama at the White House.

While the Indian government is not directly involved in perpetrating these crimes, the silence of Prime Minister Modi and government authorities is 'deafening', Jeff King, president, International Christian Concern said.

"I believe the Strategic and Commercial Dialogue should go beyond security, defence, economic cooperation etc, to enable both nations to build on their shared values of democracy, freedom of religion and the rule of law," said Musaddique Thange from the Indian American Muslim Council.

Through this dialogue, the US must impress upon Indian officials the need to strengthen protection for religious minorities, to uphold freedom of religion by ensuring justice is done in cases of religious violence, and to enact laws that protect whistleblowers and activists from official retribution, he said.

Martina E Vandenberg, President of Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Centre, demanded that in light of India's failure to take decisive steps to combat human trafficking, India be ranked as Tier 3 in the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Ajit Sahi, Civil Liberties Campaigner & Investigative Journalist, was of the view that both the State as well as non-state actors violate human rights in India on a massive scale, often in conjunction with each other.

"To begin with, it is imperative that the Indian government bring in place a mechanism by which police officers who falsely framed innocent people in terror cases can be punished for their illegalities. Another demand is that the government recognise the wrongs committed and suitably compensate and rehabilitate the victims of such fraudulent criminal cases," Sahi said.