NEW DELHI – United States Undersecretary for civilian security, Dr Sarah Sewall expressed concern on Thursday about recent incidents of violence in India against religious minorities, urging national leaders to be vigilant in protecting the right of Indians to freedom of worship. India’s archaic stance on same sex relationships is also a sticky point in Indo-US relationships.
“We have concerns about some of the recent incidents here in India,” said Dr Sarah Sewall, whose official role covers civilian security, democracy and human rights. She cited the mob killing of a Muslim man rumoured to have eaten beef and a string of attacks on churches last year.
“Much of the challenge is for political leaders, as well as religious leaders, to be setting a strong and firm example about the need to uphold constitutional protections,” Dr Sewall told the Reuters news service during an official tour of a mosque, church and Hindu temple in the Indian capital.
Dr Sewall’s is visiting New Delhi and Dharamsala, where will meet Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. Some interpret the visit as a part of a warming in US-India ties since tension between the countries spiked over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in the United States in 2013.
Some believe that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the Indo-US relationshiphas improved, though some sticking points remain over US visas issued to Indian citizens who have been trafficked in the United States, besides India’s criminalisation of homosexuality.
US officials have said Indian citizens who have been issued US “T visas” (trafficked) have been subject to restrictions, including long delays in renewing passports at Indian consulates in the United States.
The United States still has some outstanding concerns about how those visas are being handled, Dr Sewall said, but added that she was “encouraged by the direction the practice was evolving”. “I will say from the US side, we feel like the relationship is very much on track,” Dr Sewall said.
She is will meet Indian officials to discuss areas of mutual concern, including violent extremism, migration and the protection of citizens from trafficking and slavery.