Members of the US Congress could consider whether or not to condition future American aid to India on “improvements” in human rights and civil liberties in the country, an independent and bipartisan congressional research body has said.
“The Biden Administration has requested $117 million in foreign assistance to India for FY 2023. Congress could consider whether or not to condition some or all of such aid on improvements in human rights and civil liberties in India,” Congressional Research Service said in its “In Focus” report titled “India: Human Rights Assessment”.
The $117 million aid to India through USAID is a proposal by the Biden Administration. Notably, India has not asked for any such American assistance. Also, this amount is insignificant considering the India-US trade and business ties. During Covid-19 pandemic, the US corporate sector alone donated equipment and aid worth $500 million in a matter of weeks.
India has repeatedly rejected criticism by foreign governments, lawmakers and human rights groups on allegations that civil liberties have eroded in the country. The government has asserted that India has well-established democratic practices and robust institutions to safeguard the rights of all.
The government has emphasised that the Indian Constitution provides for adequate safeguards under various statutes for ensuring the protection of human rights.
Congressional Research Service or CRS is an independent and bipartisan research wing of the US Congress which regularly prepares reports and short documents on various issues by subject matter experts for the lawmakers to make informed decisions.
CRS normally avoids giving any recommendations, but not in this case. Authored by K Alan Kronstadt, specialist in South Asian Affairs, the report notes that currently there are three related resolutions in the Congress.
Senate Resolution, introduced in May 2022, “recognises widening threats to press freedom and free expression around the world — and takes note of retaliatory killings of journalists and internet blackouts in India” — has garnered nine co-sponsors to date, it said.
Notably, the Senate Resolution is not India-specific. It lists out over a dozen, including Russia, China and Mexico.
A similar bill, House Resolution 1095 (introduced the same month), has garnered 16 co-sponsors to date, it said. And House Resolution 1196 (introduced June 2022), “condemning human rights violations and violations of international religious freedom in India,” has garnered 11 co-sponsors to date, CRS said.
CRS in a short two-page report said that India is identified by US government agencies, the United Nations, and some nongovernmental organisations “as the site of numerous human rights abuses, many of them significant, some seen as perpetrated by agents of both state and federal governments.”
“The scope and scale of such abuses reportedly has increased under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP, particularly since their convincing national reelection in 2019,” the CRS said.
“Many analyses also warn of democratic backsliding in India,” it said, adding that these developments have implications for global democratic trends.
India had rejected the reports from the Sweden-based Varieties of Democracies Project and the 2021 report of the US-based nonprofit Freedom House, terming them as “misleading, incorrect and misplaced”.