Members of the United States Congress have raised concerns over increasing intolerance and religious freedom in India. In a letter addressed directly to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 32 Congress members urged the Indian Prime Minister to address "increasing intolerance and violence experienced by members of [India's] religious minority community."
The letter was dated 25 February and comes amid increasing dispute in the country over the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) row. The nation has been divided after the University's student president was arrested on charges of sedition, with thousands marching against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since Kanhaiya Kumar's arrest on 12 February. Noam Chomsky and a number of leading British academics also condemned the "unlawful arrest" in an open letter to the Indian government.
The letter penned by Congress members stated: "Mr Prime Minister, we urge you to turn [your] words into action by publicly condemning the ban on non-Hindu faiths in the Bastar District of Chhattisgarh, and the violent assaults and other forms of harassment against religious minorities throughout India. We also urge you to instruct Indian security forces to enforce the rule of law and protect religious minority communities from religiously-motivated harassment and violence."
The letter addresses the treatment of India's Christian, Muslim and Sikh communities, noting an incident in June 2014 when village councils in Chhattisgarh adopted a resolution to ban all "non-Hindu religious propaganda, prayers, and speeches" in the community. Congress members condemned the fact that a number of Christian have been subject to "physical assaults, denial of government services, threats of forced expulsion, denial of access to food and water, and pressure to convert to Hinduism".
The letter also mentioned the beef bans in a number of Indian states, stating that this was "increasing tensions and encouraging vigilante violence against the Indian Muslim community". Congress members cited the mob killing of Mohammed Hasmat Ali, the fourth Muslim murdered in six weeks "by Hindu mobs angered over allegations of cows being slaughtered or stolen".
Among those to sign the letter was eight senators and 26 US House of Representatives, including the co-chairs and thirteen other members of the Human Rights Commission. Recognising the partnership between India and the United States, Congress urged Prime Minister Modi to uphold words spoken by him in February 2014, which stated that his government would "ensure that there is complete freedom of faith... and not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority to incite hatred against others".
The letter said: "We urge your government to take immediate steps to ensure that the fundamental rights of religious minorities are protected and that the perpetrators of violence are held to account."