Religious freedom, human rights still under threat in India; the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom asks US State Department to designate India as “country of particular concern”
New Delhi, November 24 (KMS): The 2022 report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has again asked the US Department of States to designate India as “country of particular concern” (CPC) saying “religious freedom and related human rights in India are under ongoing threat for a variety of reasons, including various government policies that do not protect religious minorities”.
The report cited various issues such as crackdown on civil society and dissent, anti-conversion laws, anti-cow slaughter laws, Karnataka hijab ban, disinformation and hate speech, attacks on religious communities and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) as some prime issues nagging the country.
A country is designated as CPC for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, as set forth by the International Religious Freedom Act.
The report noted that in 2022, religious freedom conditions in India remained poor. During the year, the Indian government at the national, state, and local levels continued to promote and enforce policies, including laws targeting religious conversion, interfaith relationships, and cow slaughter, which negatively affect Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and Adivasis (indigenous and scheduled tribal people). The national government also continued to suppress critical voices—particularly religious minorities and those advocating on their behalf—including through surveillance, harassment, demolition of property, arbitrary travel bans, and detention under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and by targeting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) under the Financial Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).
The USCIRF said the manner in which government officials have enforced these policies has enabled intolerance of religious minorities and exacerbated communal divides, resulting in violence, deaths, injuries, sexual assault, destruction of property including houses of worship, arbitrary detentions, harassment including online harassment, and social boycotting of religious, scheduled caste, and tribal communities.
Talking about the crackdown on civil society and dissent, the US commission pointed out that in 2022, the Indian government continued to repress critics of its policies and ideologies. Officials surveilled, harassed, detained, and prosecuted a number of journalists, lawyers, rights activists, academics, political leaders, religious minorities, and others critical of its policies through the use of various laws, including the UAPA and other statutes.
It has cited the cases of several journalists who were charged under the UAPA for reporting on communal violence and human rights violations. The arrest of Alt-news co-founder and journalist Mohammed Zubair and Malayalam journalist Siddique were mentioned. The arrest of prominent activists, Vernon Gonslaves, GN Saibaba, Teesta Setalvad, student activist Atikur Rahman and the death of Father Stan Swamy were mentioned in the report.
Noting the demolition of houses, the report stated that in early 2022, Indian authorities in several states destroyed people’s homes, alleging that the demolished buildings lacked proper permits and were illegal structures. However, the demolitions primarily targeted Muslims, some of whom were accused of participating in riots, including the Ram Navani procession incident in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, and the Hanuman Jayanti procession in Delhi.
Talking about the anti-conversion laws, the report said, “State policies such as anti-conversion laws disproportionately impact religious minorities. These laws enable and encourage Hindu nationalists to target and discriminate against religious minorities under the guise of protecting the Hindu faith and upholding state laws. The application and advocacy of these policies by government officials has created a culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence particularly towards Muslims and Christians, exacerbating communal divides in various Indian states such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh (MP), and Uttar Pradesh (UP), resulting in violence, arrests, deaths, and social boycotting of religious, scheduled caste, and tribal communities”.
The report pointed out anti-cow slaughter laws, which are enforced in 28 states, are often used against the religious minorities including Muslims and Christians, Dalits and other indigenous communities whose religious beliefs don’t prohibit beef eating.
The USCIRF report noted that religious minorities continue to face targeted violence and discrimination for being perceived as a threat to Hinduism. Authorities, including police, at times assist Hindu nationalist vigilante groups. USCIRF has received credible reports that adherents of these hardline groups threaten and use violence, including sexual assault, to punish or subdue religious communities, including Dalit Christians and Muslims, who are often discriminated against both for converting and being “lower-caste.”
As regards hate speeches and disinformation, the report said government officials and non-state actors continue to use social media platforms and other forms of communication to intimidate and spread hatred and disinformation against minority communities. The quick spread of misinformation online has at times led to violent attacks. KMS 01 H