“Conditions for religious minorities deteriorated due to Hindu-nationalist groups”: US Religious Freedom Report, 2018

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: June 22, 2019
For the second time prime minister, NarendraModi, after his re-election, promised to safeguard religious minorities immediately after his re-election, surprising many, given the conduct of the vanguard of the supremacist Hindutva right on the ground. Meanwhile, the recently released 2018 US Report on International Religious Freedom has concluded that the “conditions for religious minorities (in India) have deteriorated over the last decade, due to a multifaceted campaign by Hindu-nationalist groups like the RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh (RSS), the parent organisation of the ruling BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP), the SanghParivar and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Attack on minorities

The report states that the religious freedom in India continued to be on a downward trend in 2017 with India’s multicultural and multireligious society under severe threat due to an “increasingly exclusionary conception of national identity based on religion.”

The US report places India in the Tier 2 category which is defined as “nations in which the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government during 2017 are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” CPC (Countries of Particular Concern) standard.”

India shares this position with 11 other countries including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Cuba, Iraq, Kazakhstan among others. CPC (Tier 1) countries are those which have witnessed “severe religious freedom violations” and include radical nations like Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria among others.

Key Findings:
According to the Census of India, 2011, 79.80% of our population is Hindu, 14.2% Muslims and 2.3% Christians. However, the report states that the past decade has witnessed severe cases of crimes and violence against non-Hindus (Muslims and Christians) and the lower caste Hindus (Dalits) at the hands of the Hindutva supremacists. Some of the key findings (particularly for the year 2017) of the report are as follows:
  • Hindu-nationalist groups (both public and private actors) sought to “Saffronize” India through violence, intimidation and harassment against non-Hindus and Hindu Dalits.
  • 1/3rd of state governments engaged in anti-conversion and/or anti-cow slaughter laws against non-Hindus, especially against families engaged in the dairy, leather, or beef trades for generations.
  • While Article 48 of our Constitution prohibits slaughter of cow, but the report suggests that “cow protection lynch mobs are a new phenomenon with at least 10 victims lynched in 2017.” These perpetrators face impunity due to the backing of powerful sources.
  • Severe cases of violence against Christians for alleged  proselytizing / forced conversion were witnessed. For instance, three Christians were arrested in 2017 in Khandwa district, MP for alleged forced conversions.
  • Forced conversion of non-Hindus to Hinduism through mass “gharwapsi” ceremonies.
  • FCRA licenses of several international missionary and human rights groups were cancelled or the entire NGO shut down on the grounds that they were engaging in activities “detrimental to national interest.” Strikingly, the majority of these organisations were political opponents of Modi administration, non-Hindu religious organisations,  especially Christian churches or missionary groups. Example- Compassion International which was shut down owing to the discriminatory way the FCRA has been applied against Christian groups
  • Religious minorities not only face security issues but also lack of representation in the legislature. To give an instance, out of the 1,400 BJP members serving as ministers across state assemblies in 2017, only 4 were Muslims.
  • The exaggeration and fake news by the media has led to extreme cases of violence. For instance, the media hyped the ‘Love Jihad’ issue which fueled the private citizens to commit horrific acts, including ShambhuLalRegar’s viral video, in which he hacked to death a Muslim man, Afrazul Khan, on camera for alleged conversion of Hindu women.
  • States having the least religious freedom are- Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan (all BJP-ruled states in 2017 except Odisha and Karnataka).
  • Instances of communal violence were often preceded by incitement to violence against minorities by politicians or religious leaders.

The role of RSS-BJP in affecting religious freedom:
The report explicitly states that the Hindutva groups headed by the RSS and the ruling regime, the BJP, are responsible for the growing incidence of violence and communal altercations. It is pertinent to note that the report forthrightly mentions BJP as a “Hindu-nationalist party.” Some of the key points mentioned in the report are:
  • The RSS, VHP and the SanghParivar have actively led campaigns to “alienate non-Hindus or lower caste Hindus.”
  • Modi administration has not addressed the rising problem of communal and mob violence.
  • Inflammatory speeches by Modi’s own acolytes have led to lynchings and other violence in the past, however the regime hasn’t done enough to give justice to the victims.
  • The Hindutva groups are concerned with the rising Muslim population “ which in their view necessitates their actions against the Muslim community,” even if that requires expulsion, killing or conversion.
  • Members of the BJP have affiliations with the extremist groups and they speak a discriminatory language.
  • RSS and other Hindutva groups have expanded the scope of their religious schools and are teaching their intolerant ideology to nearly four million students.
  • The youth wing of the RSS has used violence and intimidation to silence the secular forces in colleges and universities.
  • Hindutva-nationalists have attempted to erase or downplay the influence of non-Hindus in Indian history.
Some positive developments:
While the report is a grave cause of concern for all the secular forces of our nation, there is a small portion of it which continues to give one a ray of hope that our Constitutional principles can yet be safeguarded and upheld. The report throws light on instances where the “active and independent” Indian Judiciary protected the rights of religious minorities such as in the Hadiya case in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of a Hindu woman who had willingly converted to Muslim and married a Muslim man .

All in all, the report reveals the deterioration of religious freedom in India which is threatening our secular fabric. It’s direct mention of the Hindutva groups including the BJP being the cause of this deterioration is something which may not go down well with the ruling regime, considering the current US-India tariff war, despite the report being published by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan U.S. government advisory body.

Interestingly, the report gives a cautionary note stating “Massive violent incidents are more likely to reoccur if the Modi Administration and state governments continue to fail to punish individuals who engage in violence and incitement to violence against religious minorities.”
The India Chapter of the report can be read here.

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