India has institutions to address human rights, religious freedom concerns: US


Washington (PTI) – India is a vibrant democracy and has institutions to address concerns of religious freedom and human rights, the US has said, refusing to treat the country at par with other nations on such issues which constitute the core of its values and diplomacy.

The remarks made by a State Department official have come in the wake of widespread protests held across India against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). According to the CAA, members of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 following religious persecution there will get Indian citizenship.

The protesters claim that the legislation is “unconstitutional and divisive” as it excludes Muslims.

A Senior State Department official told a group of reporters following the conclusion of the 2+2 ministerial here that human rights and religious freedom were a core issue for the Trump administration and for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The Secretary during a joint press conference noted that India is a vibrant democracy, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“There is a debate going on in India over this very legislation. It’s a legislation that will be reviewed by the courts. It’s being protested by political parties. It’s being debated in the media. All of these institutions exist in a democratic India and so we respect that process,” said the senior State Department official.

The official was responding to a question on protests in India on CAA.

The official said at the same time, the US would continue to express its concerns on this issue.

“I think as (US) Ambassador (on International Religious Freedom, Samuel) Brownback has already commented, we have concerns about religious criteria, but again, this is a piece of legislation now, an act, that is continuing to be reviewed within the Indian system,” the official said.

Noting that the US regularly raises these issues with India, the official, however, did not confirm if the developments post CAA featured during the talks at the State Department on Wednesday.

Pompeo met External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar for a bilateral meeting. Thereafter, they were joined by the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Secretary for the second 2+2 dialogue here.

Did you seek any specific assurances on restoring those services in Kashmir, any ultimatum of any sort on that issue? the senior state department official was asked by a reporter.

“This is not a relationship where we deal in ultimatums. Again, I think this is a country, a democracy where these policies are being voted on, they’re being debated, they’re being reviewed by a judiciary, and so I would not use that terminology,” the official said in response to the question.

Asked about Kashmir, the citizenship law, criticism of the Modi government’s attitude toward Muslims and whether India under Prime minister Narendra Modi is headed in the wrong direction, the official said, “I would not. I think what we see in India is, again, a vibrant democracy”.

“I would remind you that in the May elections 67 per cent of the Indian people came out to vote, that was the largest percentage of women voters that we’ve seen. It was peaceful, it was contested, it was contested at national-level politics, at local-level politics. We have to respect that process,” the official asserted.

“There may be individual policies that are going to evoke concern. We will express our concern, we engage with the Indian Government regularly on the full spectrum of issues. But you can’t ignore that these are not policies that are being done in the dark, and so we have to respect that debate, and as well as add our voice to it when appropriate,” said the senior official.

The US has discussed its concern over what the roadmap is in Kashmir to a return to economic and political normalcy, and what has concerned the administration about the actions in Kashmir are the prolonged detentions of political leaders as well as other residents of the Valley, in addition to the restrictions that continue to exist on cell phone coverage and internet, the official said.

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