Despite having a long history as a secular democracy where religious communities of every faith have thrived, in the past couple of years, India, the fastest youngest growing economy in the world, has been facing a downward trend in religious freedom.
India is in the list of Tier 2 countries for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing egregious’ standard for designation as a ‘country of particular concern’ (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).
The United States government has criticized a multifaceted campaign by Hindu nationalist groups, with the likes of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Sangh Parivar and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) to alienate non-Hindus or lower-caste Hindus. It said the groups are a signifcant contributor to the rise of religious violence and persecution in India. And the intimidation has resulted in loss of political power, increasing feelings of disenfranchisement and limits on access to education, housing and employment.
The US Report on International Freedom 2019 noted that India’s history of religious freedom has come under attack with the growth of ‘exclusionary extremist narratives’. And this includes the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities, that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities.
“In February 2018, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Home Affairs Hansraj Ahir reported to the Parliament that 111 people were murdered and 2,384 injured in 822 communal clashes during 2017; compared to 86 people killed and 2,321 injured in 703 incidents the previous year.” Furthermore, independent hate crime monitoring services said there were more than 90 religious-based hate crimes in 2018.
According to the report, approximately one-third of state governments, in 2018, increasingly ‘enforced anti-conversion and/or anti-cow slaughter laws discriminatorily against non-Hindus, Dalits, some of whom have been legally involved in the diary, leather or beef trades for generations. The report highlighted mob violence in India extensively. “Mob violence was also carried out against Christians under accustions of forced or induced religious conversion. In cases involving mobs killing an individual based on false accusations of cow slaughter or forced conversion, police investigations and prosecutions often were not adequately pursued.”
Moreover, the Supreme Court in 2018 took note of the deteroriating conditions for religious freedom in some states. The top court reprehended the state governments for ‘not doing enough’ to stop violence against religious minorities. In some extreme cases, impunity was being granted to criminals engaged in communal violence. The report highlighted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘silence’. It said certain members of his political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have affiliations with Hindu extremist groups and used inflammatory language about religious minorities publicly.
“Victims of large-scale attacks in recent years have not been granted justice, and reports of new crimes committed against religious minorities were not adequately accounted for or prosecuted. India’s substantial population both complicates and limits the ability of national and state institutions to address these issues.”
The US is pushing for India to allow a United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) delegation visit the country and meet the stakeholders to evaluate the conditions for freedom of religion. The US government has recommended to press the respective state governments to prosecute religious leaders, government officials and media personalities who incite violence against religious minority groups through public speeches and articles.