Indian Diplomat Ignores U.S. Congressmembers’ Concerns about Religious Freedom
A brutal video depicting the assaults of two women from the Kuki-Zo tribe — consisting largely of Christians — in the Manipur region of India made global headlines this month.
The women were dragged around naked before being sexually assaulted by men from the Meitei community. The international attention forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who notoriously denies there is religious persecution in India — to finally break his silence about the ongoing violence in Manipur, saying, “What has happened to the daughters of Manipur can never be forgiven.” The silence from the Prime Minister up until this disastrous point shows the unfortunate trend of Indian officials downplaying the widespread violations of religious freedom that take place in India.
Representative Eli Crane (R-Ariz.) knows the grave reality of religious freedom conditions in India well and visited officials from the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C. to raise the issue with Indian diplomats. He recounted the story on “Washington Watch” with Tony Perkins this week, saying that he and Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) “brought in the deputy chief of mission of India into my office to talk about religious persecution. And I can tell you, that meeting did not go well at all. [The deputy chief of mission of the Indian embassy] completely denied the context and the premise of the concern that we were raising about religious persecution …”
This is a disappointing reaction from Indian diplomats, but not altogether unexpected. Indian officials have recently been so bold as to push back on the idea that there is serious religious conflict in India, even amid deadly clashes in Manipur. Indian officials loudly opposed a resolution from the European Parliament, which advocated for India to protect religious groups from violence in the region.
The religious freedom concerns in India are diverse. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) reports that anti-conversion laws, which are enshrined in 12 Indian states, “carry penalties of hefty fines and imprisonment and disproportionately target Christians and Muslims.” Anti-conversion laws are supposedly intended to prevent people from being tricked or “induced” into changing one’s faith, but end up discouraging the sharing of one’s faith — often due to action taken against quite ordinary evangelism on the grounds that it is “tricking” people into “fraudulent” conversions.
Violence against Christians across India continues to rise. In the first half of 2023, the Indian NGO United Christian Forum (UCF) observed 400 anti-Christian incidents in India. This was a huge increase from the same timeframe last year, when they found 274 anti-Christian incidents. Indian officials consistently downplay violent attacks against Christians and Muslims, and they fail to adequately address the issue and protect religious minorities. Sometimes local authorities are part of the problem and participate in targeting minorities.
In December 2021, The New York Times reported that, “Anti-Christian vigilantes are sweeping through villages, storming churches, burning Christian literature, attacking schools and assaulting worshipers. … In church after church, the very act of worship has become dangerous despite constitutional protections for freedom of religion.”
Given the ample evidence of severe religious freedom problems in India, it is shocking that an Indian diplomat would lie about it to U.S. representatives. Crane suggested that denying religious freedom problems is policy for the ruling Indian administration. He said, “Because she’s an ambassador of that country, that same attitude probably comes from the top.” However, Crane indicated that he would continue to speak the truth about religious freedom conditions in the country. He and Luna are preparing to send a letter to Prime Minister Modi discussing their concerns.
Crane also noted that the United States is right to be concerned about what goes on in India. He pointed out, “The bottom line is, for a country that we give so much foreign aid to… you would think that they would be treating their citizens with a little bit more respect. And this is something that we need to shine a light on.” The United States gave nearly $140 million to India in 2022 alone, contributing to over $2.8 billion over the last 20 years.
The Arizona Republican is hopeful that U.S. advocacy can help make a difference on behalf of the persecuted. He told listeners on “Washington Watch,” “Hopefully… we’ll see maybe some of the persecution let up in the future if we get loud enough about this issue and show the government and the leaders within India that this is something that is very important and should be taken very seriously.”
Arielle Del Turco is Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of "Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution."