Wednesday May 26, 2021
The annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has found that religious freedom in India "continued its negative trajectory" in 2021.
The country-specific findings for India were shared by the USCIRF on Wednesday via its Twitter account.
"The government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom," read the report.
Recapping the events of 2020, the commission's report states that at the beginning of the year the passage of the "religiously discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act — CAA — resulted in nationwide protests and led to violence from both state and nonstate quarters, "largely targeting Muslims".
In February, some of the worst violence was seen in New Delhi when Hindu-Muslim riots erupted.
"More than 50 people died and 200 others were injured, mostly Muslims," the report notes.
"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," it states.
It adds that the Delhi Minorities Commission conducted a probe in the aftermath of the violence and found that 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”.
The report also notes with concern the lengths at which the state enacted policies to prevent interfaith marriages from taking place using the false narrative of “forced conversion”.
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", it said.
According to USCIRF, similar laws were passed in Madhya Pradesh and are being pushed in several states, including Haryana, Assam, and Karnataka.
It said that Hindu nationalist groups also launched "inflammatory campaigns decrying interfaith relationships or engagements, including calling for boycotts and censorship of media depictions of interfaith relationships".
The efforts to delegitimise interfaith relations "have led to attacks and arrests of non-Hindus and to innuendo, suspicion, and violence toward any interfaith interaction", the report observes.
It further observes that in September, the Indian Parliament amended the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) to increase restrictions on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
This led "further stifling civil society and forcing religious organisations and human rights organisations, including those advocating for religious freedom, to shut down", said the report.
It noted that Amnesty International India was forced to shut down operations in October after authorities froze its bank account.
The report also speaks of the government's decision to acquit individuals accused of the Babri Mosque demolition, as well as the state's "inaction to address religious violence contributed to a culture of impunity for those promulgating hate and violence toward religious minorities".
It mentions how the government also cracked down on those courageous enough to express dissent, noting that the actions included "detaining and even accusing individuals of sedition for their actual or perceived criticism of the CAA and other governmental (in)actions".
The commission made a set of recommendations to the US government, outlined below:
It also recommended that the US Congress: