"We are monitoring some recent concerning developments in India including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials," top US diplomat Blinken tells Indian foreign and defence ministers in Washington.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the United States is monitoring what he described as a rise in human rights abuses in India by some officials, in a rare direct rebuke by Washington of the South Asian nation's rights record.
"We regularly engage with our Indian partners on these shared values (of human rights) and to that end, we are monitoring some recent concerning developments in India including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police and prison officials," Blinken said on Monday in a joint press briefing with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
Blinken did not elaborate. Singh and Jaishankar, who spoke after Blinken at the briefing, did not comment on the human rights issue.
Blinken's remarks came days after US Representative Ilhan Omar questioned the alleged reluctance of the US government to criticise Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government on human rights.
"What does Modi need to do to India’s Muslim population before we will stop considering them a partner in peace?" Omar, who belongs to President Joe Biden's Democratic Party, said last week.
Blinken's remarks came as clashes between Hindus and Muslims during the Hindu festival of Ram Navami prompted police to impose curfew in several Indian states while the authorities in central Madhya Pradesh state demolished several houses belonging to Muslims, witnesses said and local media reported.
“How much does the Modi administration have to criminalise the act of being Muslim in India for us to say something?”— TRT World (@trtworld) April 8, 2022
US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar questions the Biden administration for being “reluctant to criticise Modi’s government on human rights” pic.twitter.com/WJ10yJxvcI
Muslims under Modi's rule
Modi's critics say his Hindu ultra-nationalist ruling party has fostered religious polarisation since coming to power in 2014. He denies the charge.
Since Modi came to power, far-right Hindu groups have launched attacks on minorities claiming they are trying to prevent religious conversions. Several Indian states have passed or are considering anti-conversion laws that challenge the constitutionally protected right to freedom of belief.
In 2019, the government passed a citizenship law that critics said undermined India's secular constitution by excluding Muslim migrants from neighbouring countries. The law was meant to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan before 2015.
In the same year, soon after his 2019 re-election win, Modi's government annexed part of disputed Kashmir in a bid to fully integrate the Muslim-majority region with the rest of the country.
To keep a lid on protests, the administration detained many Kashmir political leaders and sent many more paramilitary police and soldiers to the Himalayan region also claimed by Pakistan.
Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) recently banned wearing the hijab in classrooms in Karnataka state. Hardline Hindu groups later demanded such restrictions in more Indian states. Muslim mutton sellers and fruit vendors have become the latest victims of the far-right Hindu groups.