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United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has released the “Annual Report” for the year 2021. India, in this report, is listed among the “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC).
Hindu Nationalist Policies of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP)
The report highlighted the violations of religious freedom because of the Hindu Nationalist Policies of the ruling party BJP. The report mentions that the religious freedom conditions in India continued their negative trajectory in 2020. Referring to the religion-based Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the BJP government, the report says, “In early 2020, the passage of the religiously discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA)—a fast track to citizenship for non-Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan residing in India—led to nationwide protests against the CAA and spurred state and nonstate violence, largely targeting Muslims.”
Hindu-Muslim mob violence of February 2020
The report mentioned the violence that erupted in Delhi in February as the ‘worst’ Hindu-Muslim mob violence in more than three decades. The report reads, “More than 50 people died and 200 others were injured, mostly Muslims. Mobs sympathetic to Hindu nationalism operated with impunity, using brutal force to single out Muslims, attack mosques, and destroy homes and businesses in majority-Muslim neighborhoods.”
Police brutality against minorities
Police brutality is common and well known in India. The annual report also highlights this matter concerning the February 2020’s violence against Muslims and Shaheen Bagh Protest in Delhi. Referring to the investigations carried out by The Delhi Minorities Commission, the report reads, “The Delhi Minorities Commission investigated and found that the violence and allegations of police brutality and complicity were ‘seemingly planned and directed to teach a lesson to a certain community which dared to protest against a discriminatory law’. Citing COVID-19 concerns, in March police cleared the Shaheen Bagh protest in Delhi—a peaceful sit-in that had lasted more than 100 days and was led by Muslim and non-Muslim women protesting the CAA.”
Exclusion and detention of Indian residents after the implementation of National Register of Citizens (NRC)
The report says that the proposed NRC and CAA together could subject Muslims, in particular, to ‘statelessness, deportation or prolonged detention’, because as per NRC the citizens have to provide the documents of citizenship. Citing the example of Assam detention camp, the report reads, “The northeastern state of Assam provides a chilling example: in 2019, a statewide NRC was implemented in Assam that ultimately excluded 1.9 million residents (both Muslims and Hindus) from the citizenship register. In some cases, families who had resided in India for generations were excluded; in other cases, a family member was included on the citizenship register while another was not. The consequences of exclusion—as exemplified by a large detention camp being built in Assam—are potentially devastating and underscore concerns about the impact such laws may have if extended to other states or nationwide. USCIRF highlighted this weaponization of citizenship laws and the potential for atrocities in a March hearing.”
Prohibition of interfaith marriages and relationships
The policies prohibiting interfaith marriages and relationships are ‘raising significant concerns’ as per the report. The report adds that such policies often result in violence. False narratives of “forced conversions” are used in the efforts of prohibiting interfaith relationships. Citing the example of the ordinance passed by Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh to stop interfaith marriage the report reads, “In late 2020, Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, passed an ordinance voiding any marriage conducted for the ‘sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice-versa’. Similar legislation was approved in Madhya Pradesh and is being pushed in several states, including Haryana, Assam, and Karnataka.”
The report also took note of the campaigns launched by the Hindu majority groups to stop interfaith engagements. “Hindu nationalist groups also launched inflammatory campaigns decrying interfaith relationships or engagements, including calling for boycotts and censorship of media depictions of interfaith relationships. These efforts targeting and delegitimizing interfaith relationships have led to attacks and arrests of non-Hindus and to innuendo, suspicion, and violence toward any interfaith interaction”, the report reads.
Amendment of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and shut down of Amnesty International India
The report says that the Parliament of India amended FCRA in September to impose more restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), further stiffing the civil society and forcing the religious and human rights organizations, including those advocating religious freedom, to shut down. “Amnesty International India closed operations in October after authorities froze its bank account”, the report added.
Government official’s disinformation and hateful rhetoric against minorities during Covid-19
The report mentions the hate and disinformation was spread against the minorities at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak in India which resulted in the harassment of minorities. Referring to the involvement of the government officials in spreading hate and targeting minorities during the Covid-19 outbreak, the report reads, “At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, disinformation and hateful rhetoric—including from government officials—often targeted religious minorities, continuing familiar patterns. Disinformation and intolerant content have emboldened intimidation, harassment, and mob violence in recent years, including numerous instances of violence mainly against Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Adivasis, and other religious communities.”
Use of social media to spread hatred against minorities by government’s officials and nonstate actors
The report says that social media and other forms of communication were used by government officials and nonstate actors to spread hatred and disinformation against minority communities including Muslims, Dalits, and Christians. Referring to the expert’s suggestions the report says, “In 2020, pervasive disinformation about the CAA protests and the COVID-19 pandemic specifically targeted religious minorities and marginalized communities, disproportionately affecting women. Dalits, who have long faced religious-based discrimination in all aspects of life, experienced heightened harassment and discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The report noted the spread of false images via social media to target minorities in offenses like cow slaughter. “Additionally, false information—aided with images sent via social media—have implicated religious communities in cow slaughter and other alleged offenses, resulting in more than 120 cases of significant violence. The fervor around cow slaughter continues to take root in policy: in December, the state of Karnataka revised an earlier bill to impose fines and imprisonment for the transport, sale, and purchase of cattle for slaughter”, the report reads.
Government’s inaction to address religious violence
The matter of Babri Masjid and acquittal of all individuals accused of demolishing the mosque has also been mentioned in the report. The report reads, “Government action—including the acquittal of all individuals accused of demolishing the Babri Masjid mosque—as well as government inaction to address religious violence contributed to a culture of impunity for those promulgating hate and violence toward religious minorities.”
Government’s way of repressing the criticism
United Nations (UN) officials expressed their concerns over the government’s repression of criticism in the report. Referring to the government’s action against those who criticized CAA, the report reads, “the government cracked down on those expressing dissent, including detaining and even accusing individuals of sedition for their actual or perceived criticism of the CAA and other governmental (in)actions. United Nations (UN) officials expressed concern over the government’s repression of criticism.”
The report says that while the constitution of India advocates religious freedom but approximately one-third of India’s 28 states have either put limitations or prohibited religious conversation to safeguard the dominant religion from perceived threats from religious minorities. The report says that states’ Anti-Conversion laws are too often the basis for false accusations, harassment, and violence against non-Hindus that occur with impunity. “In 2020, for example, mobs—fueled by false accusations of forced conversions—attacked Christians, destroyed churches, and disrupted religious worship services”, the report reads.
Taking note of authorities’ inaction to stop violence against minorities, the report reads, “In many cases, authorities did not prevent these abuses and ignored or chose not to investigate pleas to hold perpetrators accountable. This contributed to increased mob attacks and a fear of reprisal against those coming forward. Religious minorities remain concerned about the potential for a national anti-conversion law and additional state-level statutes.”
Religious freedom in Jammu and Kashmir
The report called the internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir the ‘longest-ever shutdown’ in any democracy. Highlighting the restriction on freedom of movement and assembly in Jammu and Kashmir the report reads, “In Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly negatively impacted religious freedom, including the observance of religious holy days and the ability to attend prayers. The shutdown of the internet for nearly 18 months— the longest-ever shutdown in any democracy—and other restrictions on communications caused significant disruption and limited religious freedom.”
Recommendation to the U.S. Government
The report, in the case of India, recommends the U.S government to:
- Designate India as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in and tolerating for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA);
- Impose targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ or entities’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States;
- Advance human rights of all religious communities in India and promote religious freedom and dignity and interfaith dialogue through bilateral and multilateral forums and agreements, such as the ministerial of the Quadrilateral; and
- Condemn ongoing religious freedom violations and support religious organizations and human rights groups being targeted for their advocacy of religious freedom.
The report says that the U.S Congress should continue to raise religious freedom concerns in the U.S.-India bilateral relationship and highlight concerns through hearings, briefings, letters, and congressional delegations.Follow us: