India hits back at ‘biased’ US religious freedom report

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India defended its record on religious tolerance Friday and rebuked the United States for its own rights issues after a report accused Indian officials of supporting attacks on minority worshippers.

Washington’s annual report on religious freedom contained a rare – if indirect – criticism of its emerging ally, documenting incendiary comments by public officials and accounts of discrimination against Muslims and Christians.

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New Delhi’s foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said senior US officials had made “ill-informed” and “biased” comments coinciding with the report’s release.

“As a naturally pluralistic society, India values religious freedom and human rights,” Bagchi said in a statement.

“In our discussions with the US, we have regularly highlighted issues of concern there, including racially and ethnically motivated attacks, hate crimes and gun violence.”

Like its neighbor China, India frequently bristles at foreign criticism of its record.

It has routinely denounced the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, an autonomous government panel, which has repeatedly recommended India be put on a blacklist.

The State Department is highly unlikely to take action against India, identified by successive US administrations as a key strategic partner in the face of a rising China.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government has championed a series of measures that critics have called discriminatory.

“In India, some officials are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship,” said Rashad Hussain, the US ambassador at large for international religious freedom, at the report’s launch on Thursday.

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