Washington: Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, particularly Muslims, continued in India in 2018, amid rumours that victims had traded or killed cows for beef, an official US report said on Friday.
The state department, in its annual 2019 International Religious Freedom Report, also alleged that senior officials of the ruling BJP made inflammatory speeches against minority communities.
The report says though India’s Constitution guarantees the right to religious freedom, “this history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives”.
The report praised India’s “independent judiciary” for often providing essential protections to religious minority communities through its jurisprudence.
The “exclusionary extremist narratives”, the report says, includes “the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities”. The “campaign of violence” says involves intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities.
“Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumours that victims had traded or killed cows for beef,” it said.
According to some NGOs, the authorities often protected perpetrators from prosecution, it said.
The report said that as of November, there were 18 such attacks, and eight people killed during the year.
On June 22, two Uttar Pradesh police officers were charged with culpable homicide after a Muslim cattle trader died of injuries sustained while being questioned in police custody, the report said.
Mandated by the Congress, the state department in its voluminous report gives its assessment of the status of religious freedom in almost all the countries and territories of the world.
Releasing the report at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the state department, secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the report was like a report card which tracks countries to see how well they have respected this fundamental human right.
Government’s failure to act
In the India section, the state department said that there were reports by non-governmental organisations that the government sometimes failed to act on mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalised communities and critics of the government.
The state department said that the Central and state governments and members of political parties took steps that affected Muslim practices and institutions.
The government continued its challenge in the Supreme Court to the minority status of Muslim educational institutions, which affords them independence in hiring and curriculum decisions, it said.
“Proposals to rename Indian cities with Muslim provenance continued, most notably the renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj. Activists said these proposals were designed to erase Muslim contributions to Indian history and had led to increased communal tensions,” the state department said.
There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytise, the annual report said.
However, noting the positive developments, the report says some government entities made efforts to counter increasing intolerance in the country. Citing Rajanth Singh, previously the home minister, it said there was a 12% decline in communal violence compared to the previous year.
Senior US government officials underscored the importance of respecting religious freedom and promoting tolerance throughout the year with the ruling and opposition parties, civil society and religious freedom activists, and religious leaders belonging to various faith communities, the report said.
India has 1.3 billion population as per July 2018 estimate.
According to the 2011 national census, the most recent year for which disaggregated figures are available, Hindus constitute 79.8% of the population, Muslims 14.2%, Christians 2.3% and Sikhs 1.7%.
Groups that together constitute less than one per cent of the population include Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians (Parsis), Jews, and Baha’is.
Suggestions to the US government
The document makes recommendations to the US government to improve religious freedom in India. It says the US should press India to allow a USCIRF delegation to visit the country and evaluate the conditions for freedom of religion.
The report says since 2001, USCIRF has attempted to visit India in order to assess religious freedom on the ground. “However, on three different occasions—in 2001, 2009, and 2016—the government of India refused to grant visas for a USCIRF delegation despite requests being supported by the State Department,” it says.
The US government could work with India to “create a multiyear strategy to ebb the flow of hate crimes targeting religious minorities”, the report says. It suggests measures such as pressing state governments to prosecute religious leaders, government officials and media personalities who incite violence against religious minority groups through public speeches or articles.
The US should encourage India to pass the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2018 to establish national and state human rights commissions and human rights courts, the report says.
It also asked the US government to ensure that India’s Central government does not use the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) to “target international missionary and human rights groups”.
The CBI recently registered a case against the Lawyers Collective, a NGO run by prominent advocates Indira Jaising and Anand Grover, for alleged misuse of the FCRA. The NGO denies these allegations and said its office bearers were “personally being targeted for speaking up in defence of human rights, secularism and independence of the judiciary in all fora”.