India has reportedly denied visas to a delegation of a United States agency that monitors religious freedom, days after the government termed a letter from a US Congressmen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on religious freedom in India as "unfortunate." The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was scheduled to make a one-week visit to India starting Friday.
The commission said in a statement that the purpose of its visit was to assess conditions of religious freedom in India. It said it had been able to make visits to countries such as Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia, which are often regarded as the "worst offenders of religious freedom."
"One would expect that the Indian government would allow for more transparency than have these nations, and would welcome the opportunity to convey its views directly to USCIRF," said Robert P George, chairman of USCIRF.
"We are deeply disappointed by the Indian government's denial, in effect, of these visas. As a pluralistic, non-sectarian, and democratic state, and a close partner of the United States, India should have the confidence to allow our visit," he said.
Last month, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives, had written a letter to PM Modi, signed by several senators and House members of both parties, referring to the beef ban issue and other incidents in the country.
However, the Indian government said that the U.S. lawmakers had "chosen to focus on just a few incidents."
"We have seen the letter written by some Members of the US Congress to the Prime Minister on religious freedom in India. It is unfortunate that these Members of Congress while applauding India as a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to inclusion and tolerance have chosen to focus on just a few incidents," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup had said while addressing the media.
Citing reports from NGOs and religious communities about "deteriorating" conditions for religious freedom in India since 2014, the USCIRF said it will "continue to pursue a visit to India."