"We encourage India to promote respect for human rights," says State Department spokesperson Ned Price, following last month's insulting comments by spokespeople for PM Narendra Modi's Hindu ultra-nationalist party.
The United States has condemned remarks by Indian ruling party officials about Prophet Muhammad and his wife that have sparked an uproar in Muslim countries.
"We condemn the offensive comments made by two BJP officials and we were glad to see that the party publicly condemns those comments," State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Thursday.
"We regularly engage with the Indian government at senior levels on human rights concerns including freedom of religion or belief and we encourage India to promote respect for human rights," he said.
Nupur Sharma, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu ultra-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on May 26 made televised remarks about the youngest wife of the Prophet that have triggered demonstrations across the Islamic world.
The remarks set off diplomatic protests not only in rival Pakistan but in wealthy Arab states that usually enjoy close relations with India. In Bangladesh, protesters have demanded a formal condemnation from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, a close ally of India.
In damage-control mode, the BJP suspended Sharma as well as Naveen Kumar Jindal, another figure in the party who made inflammatory tweets about Prophet Muhammad and his wife Ayesha.
PM Modi has been criticised for not breaking his silence on the issue.
Indian police fired tear gas and beat protesters with sticks during demonstrations over derogatory remarks by two members of the ruling party BJP about Islam’s Prophet Muhammad pic.twitter.com/Qm3aD3eNjm— TRT World (@trtworld) June 12, 2022
Protests flare across India
BJP's action against its spokespeople did not stop Muslims from protesting against the Modi government in various parts of India.
New Delhi has responded with tear gas and beat up demonstrators with sticks. Indian police's response has claimed at least two lives and injured many. Properties of many Muslims have been razed – actions slammed by critics of Modi as "immoral" and "bulldozer justice."
The US since the late 1990s has sought to deepen ties with India, believing the two countries have common interests, especially in the face of a rising China.
The US, however, has several times carefully voiced concern about human rights in India as Modi faces accusations of pursuing policies that target the Muslim minority.
Earlier this month, the US said that some Indian officials have supported attacks against religious minorities.
"In India, the world's largest democracy and home to a great diversity of faiths, we've seen rising attacks on people in places of worship," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said while unveiling an annual report on international religious freedom.
Rashad Hussain, the US ambassador at large for international religious freedom, added, "In India, some officials are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship."
Hindu nationalist ruling party BJP is often accused of not only being silent on hate speech, but almost endorsing it. Although the party denies the accusations, its leaders rarely condemn such incidents.— TRT World (@trtworld) May 20, 2022
A look at surge in hate speech by high ranking politicians in India: pic.twitter.com/gRha4tpyBZ
Muslims under Modi
Since Modi rose to power in 2014, Hindu mobs have lynched scores of people — mainly Muslims and Dalit Hindus — suspected of illegally transporting cows or consuming beef.
Hindu far-right groups have also targeted Muslims over "love jihad", the conspiracy theory that Muslims are luring Hindu women with the aim of conversion and eventually national domination.
Muslims were also accused of spreading Covid-19. In recent years, Hindu mobs have targeted Muslims praying on Fridays in northern India.
Earlier this year, BJP banned the wearing of hijab in classrooms in southern Karnataka state. Hardline Hindu groups later demanded such restrictions on Islamic headgear in more Indian states. Muslim mutton sellers and fruit vendors have also become the target of the far-right Hindu groups.
During a Hindu festival recently, Hindu mobs pelted stones on mosques in several areas while DJs played loud music outside the mosques as worshippers prayed.
Hindu monks known for their incendiary anti-Muslim rhetoric have been calling for Rohingya-type ethnic cleansing of Indian Muslims.
According to Gregory Stanton, founder of Genocide Watch, the genocide of Muslims in India could be about to take place. Stanton is said to have predicted the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda years before it took place in 1994.