Washington–Religious tolerance has deteriorated and religious freedom violations have increased in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s regime, a report by an independent bipartisan American body has claimed.
The report, titled ‘Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India’ and sponsored by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said the religious minority communities and Dalits face discrimination and persecution in India where hate crimes, social boycotts and forced conversion have escalated dramatically since 2014.
“Under Congress Party and BJP-led governments, religious minority communities and Dalits, both have faced discrimination and persecution due to a combination of overly broad or ill-defined laws, an inefficient criminal justice system, and a lack of jurisprudential consistency. In particular, since 2014, hate crimes, social boycotts, assaults, and forced conversion have escalated dramatically,” said the report.
“Since the BJP assumed power, religious minority communities have been subject to derogatory comments by BJP politicians and numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by affiliated Hindu nationalist groups such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Sangh Parivar, and Vishva Hindu Parishad,” it said.
The USCIRF-sponsored report is written by Iqtidat Karamat Cheema, who is director for UK-based Institute for Leadership and Community Development. The report further says there are constitutional provisions and state and national laws in India that do not comply with international standards of freedom of religion or belief, including Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The report suggested that the US government should put religious freedom and human rights at the heart of all trade, aid and diplomatic interactions with India.
“India is a religiously diverse and democratic society with a Constitution that provides legal equality for its citizens irrespective of their religion and prohibits religion-based discrimination,” said USCIRF chair Thomas J. Reese.
“However, the reality is far different… India’s pluralistic tradition faces serious challenges in a number of its states.”
“During the past few years, religious tolerance has deteriorated and religious freedom violations have increased in some areas of India. To reverse this negative trajectory, the Indian and state governments must align theirs laws with both the country’s constitutional commitments and international human rights standards,” he said.
The report stated that India faces serious challenges to both its pluralistic traditions and its religious minorities. “Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Jains generally are fearful of what the future portends. Dalits also are increasingly being attacked and harassed”.
“The Indian government-at both the national and state levels-often ignores its constitutional commitments to protect the rights of religious minorities. National and state laws are used to violate the religious freedom of minority communities; however, very little is known about the laws,” it said.
It stated that the states of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan tend to have the greatest number of incidents of religiously-motivated attacks and communal violence, as well as the largest religious minority populations.
Quoting India’s Home Ministry figures, it said that in 2015, India experienced a 17% increase in communal violence, when compared to the previous year. In 2015, there were 751 reported incidents of communal violence, up from 644 in 2014.
The report recommended the US government to urge the Indian government to push its states that have adopted anti-conversion laws to repeal or amend them to conform to international norms.
It further urged the Indian government to immediately lift its sanctions against non-governmental organisations working for the welfare of the minorities in India.
“Identify Hindutva groups that raise funds from US citizens and support hate campaigns in India. Such groups should be banned from operating in the United States if they are found to spread hatred against religious minorities in India,” it said.
The report further stated that Indian government should reform the anti-conversion laws and appreciate that “both conversion and reconversion by use of force, fraud, or allurement are equally bad and infringe upon a person’s freedom of conscience”.
It said that India should not impose Hindu personal status laws on Sikh, Buddhist, and Jain communities, but instead provide them with a provision of personal status laws as per their distinct religious beliefs and practices.
It recommended that India adopt the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
“Operationalise the term ‘minority’ in its federal laws and comply with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious, and Linguistic Minorities.
“Drop Explanation II in Article 25 of its constitution and recognize Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism as distinct religions with their own separate religious identities.
Lastly, it said that India should also not impose Hindu personal status laws on Sikh, Buddhist, and Jain communities, but instead provide them with a provision of personal status laws as per their distinct religious beliefs and practices.