US Intercedes To Protect Persecuted Indian Minorities – Analysis
New Delhi rejects charge of religious persecution
The US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2022 released on Monday says that the US embassy and consulate officials, including the Charges d’Affaires, have engaged with government officials, members of parliament, and politicians from multiple political parties to emphasize the importance of religious freedom and the responsibility of democracies to ensure the rights of religious minorities.
The stinging report has come out a month before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s State Visit to Washington, in itself a rare event.
The report further said: “The Assistant Secretary of State and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs engaged with civil society representatives for their perspectives on religious freedom challenges within the country and with government officials to underscore the importance of respecting human rights, including religious freedom.”
Al Jazeera reported that a senior US official, speaking to the media on condition of anonymity, said in Washington: “Regarding these concerns, we are continuing to encourage the government to condemn violence and hold accountable [those] who engage in rhetoric that is dehumanizing towards religious minorities.”
Among the concerns the official noted were “open calls for genocide against Muslims, lynching and other hate-fuelled violence, attacks on places of worship and home demolitions, and in some cases impunity and even clemency for those who have engaged in attacks on religious minorities”.
The official promised to speak “directly” with Indian officials and said: “We will continue to work very closely with our civil society colleagues on the ground [and] with courageous journalists that are working every day to document some of these abuses.”
The US report said the Indian government “at the national, state and local levels promoted and enforced religiously discriminatory policies.” Those included “laws targeting religious conversion, interfaith relationships, the wearing of hijabs [headscarves] and cow slaughter”.
However, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who presented the report on Monday, did not mention India even as he voiced alarm by actions by authorities in China, Iran, Myanmar and Nicaragua. Perhaps he wanted to soften the blow in view of Washington need for New Delhi’s support in its confrontations with China and Modi’s State Visit due on June 22.
And, as usual, the Indian External Affairs Ministry trashed the report. Spokesman Arindam Bagchi said it was based on “misinformation and flawed understanding” but added that India engages the US on such issues.
The religious freedom report cites a number instances of hate speech, targeted attacks on Muslims and Christians, including lynching of Muslims allegedly for dealing in beef. It referred to BJP state politician Haribhushan Thakur Bachaul’s call to “set ablaze” Muslims; Kerala Congressman P.C. George’s call to Christians and Hindus to boycott restaurants run by Muslims; and former BJP Rajasthan legislator Gyan Dev Ahuja’s exhortation to Hindus to kill Muslims suspected of cow slaughter.
The Madhya Pradesh government bulldozed Muslim-owned homes and shops following communal violence in Khargone in April. The state’s Minister for Home Affairs, Narottam Mishra, said to local media, “If Muslims carry out such attacks, then they should not expect justice.” Media reported that he also said, “The houses where the stones have come from will be turned into a pile of stones.”
A local official in Khargone stated, “Finding out culprits one by one is a time-taking process, so we looked at all the areas where rioting took place and demolished all the illegal constructions to teach rioters a lesson.”
A Muslim lawyer told media that the state’s government was “disproportionately punishing people of one community without following any due process.”
UN special rapporteurs said that authorities in Gujarat and North Delhi had demolished mostly Muslim-owned structures after inter-communal violence in those areas in April. The Supreme Court, however, suspended demolitions in Delhi in the aftermath of the violence.
On August 15, the 11 men convicted of raping Muslim Bilkis Bano and murdering 14 members of her family in 2002 were set free in Gujarat after serving 15 years in prison. The men were part of a Hindu crowd that was accused of assaulting Bano and her family during communal violence that year. Media reported that some Hindu nationalists publicly celebrated their release. In December, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by Bano seeking a review of the release decision. The court held that the Gujarat government was the proper authority to decide upon the matter.
In June, UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of religion and belief wrote to the Indian government to express their “serious concerns” about these “punitive”, which they said, were “ordered by local governments arbitrarily to punish Muslim minorities and low-income communities.”
In multiple states, police arrested Christians accused of forcing others to convert. Christian groups said police sometimes aided crowds who disrupted services alleging that the services were meant to convert Hindus.
In Dulhepur village, Uttar Pradesh, police arrested Muslim who were meeting in a house for congregational prayers because there was no mosque in the village.
In October, the Supreme Court failed to reach agreement in a review of a Karnataka High Court ruling that upheld a Karnataka government ban on Muslim religious garb (hijab) in educational institutions.
In June, several parts of the country reported violent protests and acts of arson after spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal from the country’s ruling Bharativa Janata Party (BJP) party made televised remarks about the Prophet Muhammad which were widely seen as offensive by Muslims. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and government officials from 11 countries condemned the remarks.
The BJP suspended Sharma, who was charged with hurting religious sentiment, expelled Jindal, and issued a statement which said it “respects all religions”
Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred in various states throughout the year. These included incidents of “cow vigilantism” against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef and incidents in which Muslim men were alleged to have married Hindu women to convert them.
There were also attacks on pastors, disruption of Christian and Muslim worship services, and vandalism of churches. By November 26, the NGO United Christian Forum (UCF) said there had been 511 anti-Christian incidents around the country reported to its hotline, compared to 505 in all of 2021.
Most of the incidents were reported in four states: Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Tamil Nadu. On April 6, the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America released its 2022 annual report and documented 761 violent incidents against Christians in the country in 2021, including neighborhood skirmishes, targeted killings, and armed assaults. In August, the spokesperson of the Christian NGO Open Doors UK & Ireland said the situation facing Christians and other religious minorities in the country was “unprecedentedly grave.”
Meanwhile, Islamic terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Taiyaaba and Hizbul Mujahideen killed several civilians and migrant laborers belonging to the minority Hindu and Sikh communities in Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir. The South Asian Terrorism Portal said 30 civilians and 30 members of the security forces were killed in 151 incidents in Jammu and Kashmir during 2022. The killings forced a number of Hindu families to flee the Kashmir valley. .
Draconian Anti-Conversion Laws
All 13 states that have anti-conversion laws maintain broadly similar prohibitions against conversion through “force,” “inducement,” or “fraud,” which would include the provision of any gifts, promises of a better life, free education, and other standard charitable activities, and bar individuals from abetting such conversions.
The law in those states also require individuals wishing to convert to another religion and clergy intending to officiate at a conversion ceremony to submit formal notification to the state government. The notification procedures require state police to determine if there are objections to the conversion. Any person may object.
State governments in Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh have laws specifically imposing penalties against “forced” religious conversions for the purpose of marriage, although historically, some state high courts have dismissed cases brought under this law.
Gujarat imposes sentences of between three and 10 years in prison and fines of up to 50,000 rupees ($600) for forcible or fraudulent religious conversions through marriage.
Twenty-five of the 28 states apply partial to full restrictions on bovine slaughter. In most of the states where bovine slaughter is banned, penalties include imprisonment for six months to two years and a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 rupees ($12-$121). In Assam, penalties include minimum imprisonment of three years or a fine of between 300,000 and 500,000 rupees ($3,600-$6,100) or both, without eligibility for bail prior to trial, for slaughtering, consuming, or transporting cattle.
In Karnataka, the slaughter of all cattle, except for buffalo older than 13 years, is illegal, with violators subject to imprisonment of between three and seven years and penalties of between 500,000 and 1,000,000 rupees ($6,100-$12,200). Gujarat state law mandates a minimum 10-year sentence and a maximum sentence of life in prison for killing cows, selling beef, or illegally transporting cows or beef.
According to NGO International Christian Concern (ICC), Pastor Ramesh Vasuniya was arrested along with five congregants as he conducted a Sunday service in a house church in Padalya village on January 15. He was charged with forced conversion. Another pastor was arrested with two of his congregants in Bisoli village in the same district, according to the NGO. ICC said that police beat the three arrested in Bisoli, confiscated Bibles and materials from that pastor’s house, and demanded that his wife pay 300,000 rupees ($3,600) or “never see her husband again.” In September, a court in Madhya Pradesh granted bail to Vasuniya and the others arrested with him.
‘The Atlantic’ reported that police arrived with a crowd that disrupted a Holy Week service in Uttar Pradesh on April 14. The lawyer for the church said police simply arrested the entire congregation without confirming that anyone was being converted.
On December 1, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) Hindu nationalist organization released a list of what it said were 400 examples of “love jihad” (a derogatory term referring to Muslim men seeking to marry women from other faiths to convert them to Islam) that had taken place in the country between 2009 and 2022 and called on the national government to outlaw such marriages.
Removal Muslim Rulers from text books
Throughout the year, media reported on plans of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to remove selected topics related to history and social science from textbooks used in grades six to 12. Media reported that under the CBSE plan, the textbooks would not include material covering non-Hindu governments, rulers or persons, such as the Muslim Mughal courts, or instances of violence against non-Hindus, such as the Gujarat riots in 2002. The revised textbooks would include verses from Hindu religious texts.
At the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of India in December, 14 nations recommended that India take steps to protect the rights of all minorities as enshrined in its constitution; repealing laws used to prevent, discourage, or prosecute religious conversion; ensuring that laws governing freedom of religion are fully enforced, especially for members of religious minorities; investigating all cases of religious violence and discrimination on religious grounds, including against Muslims and other religious minorities; and condemning and addressing hate speech against Muslims and other minorities.
In March, Archbishop Machado, the NGO National Solidarity Forum, and the Evangelical Fellowship of India filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking for “the creation of a special investigation team to register criminal cases and prosecute groups responsible for attacking Christians, police protection for Christians who are under a threat of attack by violent mobs, and [an initiative] to identify and prosecute political and social groups responsible for violence against Christians.”
In September, the Supreme Court directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to collect information from eight states within four months on allegations of attacks against Christians.
In March, Jharkhand Parliamentary Affairs Minister Alamgir Alam told the state legislative assembly that 46 incidents of mob lynching took place in Jharkhand between 2016 and 2021 (most recent government data). According to the All Muslim Youth Association (AMYA), there were 58 lynchings related to cow slaughter in Jharkhand between March 2016 and December 2022, in which 36 persons were killed and 23 seriously injured. Those killed included 16 Muslims, 11 Hindus, five Christians and four Sarna Adivasis.
In August, the spokesperson in the country for the Christian NGO Open Doors UK & Ireland said the situation facing Christians and other religious minorities in the country was “unprecedentedly grave.”
The spokesperson told media: “It is no longer small extremist groups attacking converts, now it is often entire communities attacking and expelling them, beating them or handing them over to the police on false accusations. Extremists are propagating the hatred through social media, instigating mass protests and rallies, rousing hatred and spreading misinformation. These can lead in turn to mob violence.”
The David Landrum, Director of Advocacy and Public Affairs for the NGO, told media, “Religious minorities across India are standing on a precipice. Their legitimacy, and in some cases, their very presence is threatened if the current wave of violent intolerance goes unchecked.”
In September, Anita Kapoor, general secretary of the Urban Domestic Workers’ Union in New Delhi, said to the media, “Many [Muslim] workers have to hide their name and identity in order to get a job and avoid [further] discrimination.”