A Congressional commission will hold a hearing to examine the current state of human rights in India, coinciding with the White House meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama.
Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission said the hearing among other things will also examine the challenges to fundamental freedoms, and opportunities for advancement in India.
A “wide variety of serious human rights concerns persist,” the commission said in a statement explaining the reasons for holding the hearing on India.
Despite Constitutional provisions abolishing the legal existence of “untouchable”, the caste system remains deeply ingrained within Indian society, leading to ongoing discrimination, it said.
“Dalit communities, which make up a quarter of India’s population, are also disproportionately at risk of suffering from another major human rights concern in India, that of human trafficking.
“Tens of thousands of individuals, including children, are believed to be trafficking annually within India for the purposes of commercialised sexual exploitation or forced labour. Religious minorities also face growing challenges,” the commission said.
A large number of international non-governmental organisations supporting a range of causes, including human rights, have been added to government watch lists or had funding cut off by Indian officials, it said.
“These actions, coupled with perceived crackdowns on groups or individuals critical of the Indian government, have many concerned that the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association are being increasingly curtailed,” it alleged.
The hearing will examine these and other issues, while seeking to provide concrete recommendations for how US policy makers can most effectively encourage the protection of human rights given the strategic importance and continued growth of the US India bilateral relationship, the commission said.
“In 2015, religious tolerance deteriorated and religious freedom violations increased in India. Minority communities, especially Christians, Muslims and Sikhs experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups,” the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said in its latest report.
Modi will embark on a five-nation visit from June 4 which will cover Afghanistan, Qatar, Switzerland, the US and Mexico. He will travel to the US on June 7 at the invitation of Obama, with whom he will review the progress made in key areas of defence, security and energy. During his stay, he will also address a Joint Meeting of the US Congress.