Excerpts from the India Chapter of the new Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF):
While there was no large-scale communal violence in 2016, the Indian government’s Union Ministry of Home Affairs reported in January 2017 that in the first five months of 2016 there were 278 incidents of communal violence. In 2016, the governmental National Commission for Minorities received 1,288 complaints from minorities regarding such incidents, down from nearly 2,000 in 2015. However, religious minority communities, especially Christians and Muslims, reported to USCIRF that incidents had increased but minorities were afraid or believed it to be pointless to report them.
India’s constitution has provisions that provide for the legal equality of its citizens—regardless of their religion and creed—and prohibit religion-based discrimination. However, other constitutional provisions help create the conditions in which Hindu nationalist groups and their sympathizers intimidate, harass, and violently attack religious minority communities and Hindu Dalits, purportedly to uphold these laws. Article 48 of the constitution requires the state to prohibit cow slaughter, a practice many Muslims believe is required of them during Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice).
Additionally, article 25 deems Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists to be Hindus. As a result, members of these faiths are subject to Hindu Personal Status Laws, and they are denied access to social services or employment and educational preferences available to other religious minority communities.
In support of article 48 of the Indian constitution that prohibits cow slaughter, 24 out of the 29 Indian states also have passed laws significantly restricting or banning cow slaughter. Under state criminal laws, individuals can face up to 10 years in jail or a fine of up to 10,000 rupees (US$150) for the slaughter or possession of cows or bulls or the consumption of beef, and mere accusations of violations can lead to violence. The application of these legal provisions also economically marginalizes Muslims and Dalits (who adhere to various religious faiths), many of whom work in the beef or leather industries.
During the reporting period, there were a number of incidents of Muslims and Dalits being charged under these laws or subject to violence based on such accusations. For example, in August 2016 in Kadali village in Muzaffarnagar, local police arrested three members of a family and charged them with slaughtering a cow under the Uttar Pradesh Cow Slaughter Prevention Act. The police reportedly arrested the family members only after a mob attacked the family’s home.
Six Indian states—Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, and Odisha—have so-called “Freedom of Religion Act(s),” commonly referred to as anti-conversion laws, restricting religious conversion. Because of concerns about unethical conversion tactics, these laws generally require government officials to assess the legality of conversions out of Hinduism and to provide for fines and imprisonment for anyone who uses force, fraud, or “inducement” to convert another. While the laws purportedly protect religious minorities from forced conversions, they are one-sided, only concerned about conversions away from Hinduism but not toward Hinduism.
Violations against Muslims
During the past year, there were numerous reports of harassment and violent attacks against Muslims by Hindu nationalists, including local and state BJP members. Members of the Muslim community report that their abusers often accuse them of being terrorists; spying for Pakistan; forcibly kidnapping, converting, and marrying Hindu women; and disrespecting Hinduism by slaughtering cows. Members of the Muslim community rarely report abuses because of societal and police bias and police and judicial intimidation by the RSS.
In 2016, “cow protector” vigilantes—often Hindu nationalists—intimidated, harassed, and attacked Muslims and Hindu Dalits for allegedly slaughtering, selling, or consuming cow products. For example, in April 2016, in the Punjab area of Uttar Pradesh, police arrested six Muslim men who RSS members, allegedly without evidence, believed were slaughtering stray cows. At the end of the reporting period, the six men remain detained and no court date has been scheduled.
In July 2016 in Madhya Pradesh, members of a Hindu nationalist group beat two Muslim women who they alleged were carrying beef. Reportedly, the incident took place in full view of the police, who did nothing to help the victims and even allowed onlookers to film the incident. Also in July, in Una Town, Gujarat, four Hindu Dalit men were stripped naked and beaten, reportedly by members of Shiv Sena, an Indian far-right regional political party, for killing a cow and skinning it.
Violations against Christians
Christian communities across many denominations reported numerous incidents of harassment and attacks in 2016, which they attribute to Hindu nationalist groups supported by the BJP. In early 2017, the NGO, Open Doors, estimated that a church was burned down or a cleric beaten 10 times a week on average in India between January and October 2016—triple the number of incidents the group reported in 2015. These incidents often are based on suspicions or allegations that Christians are forcibly converting Hindus through inducement and denigrating Hinduism.
For example, in March 2016, about 60 Christians worshipping at a Pentecostal church in Chhattisgarh were attacked violently by Hindu radicals who believed they were attempting to convert Hindus. Church property was destroyed, congregation members were beaten, and female members of the congregation were stripped naked and beaten.
In April 2016, a Pentecostal community in Bihar was attacked, allegedly for trying to convert Hindus. Thirty congregants and several pastors were beaten; one pastor reportedly was kidnapped and tortured for hours before being released. Reportedly, the community did not file a request for investigation of the attack.
In July 2016 Hindu extremists abducted Pentecostal Minister Ramlal Kori and a friend in the village of Gadra, Madhya Pradesh, allegedly for trying to convert Hindus. The men were dragged into the forest and beaten with sticks. The police found them eight hours later tied to a tree; instead of arresting the attackers, authorities detained the Christians on the basis of the state’s anti-conversion law, but later released them. Reportedly, the minister did not file a request for an investigation of the attack. Forced conversions of Christians and other religious minorities by Hindu nationalists also were reported in 2016.
For example, in April 2016 in Chhattisgarh, two unidentified attackers, believed to be Hindu extremists, broke into a Pentecostal church and beat the pastor and his pregnant wife. The attackers also assaulted the pastor’s children and attempted to set the family and church on fire with gasoline for failing to sing “Jai Sri Ram,” a Hindu devotional song to Lord Ram. In May 2016, also in Chhattisgarh, six Gondi tribal Christian families fled the village of Katodi after their Hindu neighbors attacked and threatened them in order to forcibly convert them Hinduism. The families’ homes were destroyed.
Violations against Sikhs
Hindu nationalists often harass Sikhs and pressure them to reject religious practices and beliefs that are distinct to Sikhism, such as wearing Sikh dress and unshorn hair and carrying mandatory religious items, including the kirpan, which is a right protected by the Indian constitution. Article 25 of the Indian constitution deems Sikhs to be Hindus.
This creates an environment in which Hindu nationalists view Sikhs as having rejected Hinduism and as being enemies of India because some Sikhs support the Khalistan political movement, which seeks to create a new state in India for Sikhs and full legal recognition of Sikhism as an independent faith.
Violations against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Dalits)
Dalits officially are estimated at over 200 million people. “Higher caste” individuals or local political leaders, often members of the Hindu nationalist groups, reportedly often prohibit Hindu Dalits from entering temples because their entrance would “unsanctify” the temples.
Moreover, in the last year Dalits reported increasing harassment from Hindu nationalists who purport to be upholding the caste system and who do not believe Dalits should interact with “higher caste” individuals in jobs and in schools. Additionally, non-Hindu Dalits, especially Christians and Muslims, do not qualify for the official reserves for jobs or school placement available to Hindu Dalits, putting these groups at a significant economic and social disadvantage.
Hindu Nationalist Hate Campaigns against Minorities
In 2014, the RSS announced plans to “reconvert” thousands of Christian and Muslims families to Hinduism as part of a so-called Ghar Wapsi (returning home) program, and began raising money to do so; after domestic and international outcry, the RSS postponed its plans. Nevertheless, as noted above, smaller-scale forced conversions of religious minorities were reported in 2016. In addition, in February 2016 the RSS reportedly placed signs in train stations throughout India that said Christians had to leave India or convert to Hinduism or they will be killed by 2021.
In addition, the Hindu nationalist Bahu Lao, Beti Bachao campaign seeks to encourage young Hindu men to marry and convert non-Hindu girls, which is often done by force. Love Jihad is a campaign that portrays all Muslim men who marry Hindu women as having done so forcibly, and Muslim-mukt Bharat’ (Muslim- free India) calls for Muslims to leave India.
Religious minority communities also report that Hindu nationalist groups publicly have urged Hindus to boycott Muslim- or Christian-owned businesses, refuse to rent them properties, and deny them employment. Members of the BJP with known ties to Hindu nationalist groups also have stoked religious tensions by claiming Muslim population growth is an attempt to diminish the Hindu majority.
In 2016, high-ranking BJP parliamentarians, such as Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj, reportedly called for laws to control the Muslim population. In April 2016, Yogi Adityanath publicly urged Muslims to leave India and go where “Shariat” law is practiced. Similarly, Hindu national group members have claimed Christians are spies from the United States and are Western imperialists that seek to diminish Hinduism through forced conversion and to make India a Christian country.
Muslim and Christian communities report that these organized campaigns have led to increased intimidation and harassment in areas where they have lived since before the British colonization of the subcontinent ended in 1947.
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