This is the first time in recent times that US has directly implicated Indian government officials in human rights abuses.

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Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times

On Tuesday, the US State Department released a strong and critical report on human rights in India in 2021.

“We regularly engage with our Indian partners on these shared values, 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,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. (ANI)

…this is the first time in recent times that US has directly implicated Indian government officials in human rights abuses.

The Indian ministers did not respond on the dais.

Blinken’s remarks and the report come in the wake of a push by some progressive lawmakers in the Democratic Party, minority advocacy groups, and human rights organisations which have accused India of democratic backsliding in recent years. People familiar with the relationship said that the message appeared to be an effort to cater to a “domestic constituency” in the US.

Last week, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, at a congressional hearing, asked US deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, “How much does the Modi administration have to criminalise the act of being Muslim in India for us to say something? What will it take for us to outwardly criticise the action that the Modi administration is taking against its Muslim minorities?”

And in January, on India’s Republic Day, four Democratic lawmakers — Sentator Ed Markey and Congressmen Andy Levin, Jamie Raskin and Jim McGovern — had flagged an erosion in Indian democracy and secularism.

Commenting on Blinken’s remarks, political scientist Devesh Kapur of Johns Hopkins University, who has extensively worked on India’s internal security and state capacity, said it was important to understand the larger division of power in India’s federal architecture.

“Does India have human rights issues in prison and with the police? Yes. But we should remember that police and law and order are state subjects. Are there undertrials waiting for long? Yes. But we should remember that district courts have huge pendency issues. All of this is happening largely at the state-level.”

Kapur added that the Centre’s actions haven’t helped. “There are, of course, now newer issues with central legislations which can be considered excessive, such as Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. We also know that there is intolerance, be it with government actions in Kashmir, or vis a vis attitude to critics. But while discussing human rights violations, it is important to keep India’s federal architecture in mind.”