US addresses report expressing concerns over treatment of Muslims in India

Following a New York Times report alleging erosion of secularism in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the US State Department emphasized the importance of religious freedom.

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller addresses reporters during his daily news briefing on May.20. / Screengrab/@StateDept YouTube

The US on May.20 addressed a recently published news report on Indian Muslims by saying it has previously engaged with many countries, including India, to emphasize the right to freedom of religion.

"We are deeply committed to promoting and protecting universal respect for the right to freedom of religion or belief from all around the world,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said when asked about his comments on the article. “We have engaged many countries including India on the importance of equal treatment for members of all religious communities.”

A New York Times report titled "Strangers in Their Own Land: Being Muslim in Modi’s India" published on May.18 alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has "chipped away at the secular framework and robust democracy that had long held India together". 

The NYT article goes on to claim that India had become "a country that increasingly questions or even tries to erase the markers of Muslims’ identity — how they dress, what they eat, even their Indianness altogether”.

Interestingly, recent data released by the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (EAC-PM) had revealed that between 1950-2015, Muslim population in India had increased from 9.84 percent to 15.09 percent, while Hindu population in the same period had decreased from 84.68 percent to 78.06 percent.

The EAC-PM report also noted an increase in population for members of the Sikh, Christian and Buddhist populations while Jain and Parsi populations went down.

Modi had addressed the EAC-PM report saying that the narrative that the "minority is in danger" is false. "The wrong narrative is being exposed. Whatever meaning one has to take out of it, they can. I don't want to bring out anything," the Prime Minister had told an Indian news channel.

On May.1, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had recommended that the State Department designate Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Nigeria, and Vietnam as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs) because of their engagement in, or toleration of “particularly severe” religious freedom violations.

Twelve countries were already designated as CPCs by the body in December 2023: Burma, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Back then, the USCIRF expressed disappointment that India and Nigeria were not designated as CPCs, “despite the violations in both countries meeting the legal standard”.

On May.2, the Indian External Affairs ministry responded by calling the USCIRF a "biased organization with a political agenda."