Indian Govt Uses Abusive, Discriminatory Policies to Suppress Muslims, Free Speech: HRW

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In its World Report 2023, the rights body said authorities throughout India have arrested activists, journalists, and other critics of the government on terrorism and other politically motivated charges

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI – The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government in India is using abusive and discriminatory policies to repress Muslims and other minorities. The government has also intensified and broadened its crackdown on activist groups and the media in 2022, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday. 

In its World Report 2023, the rights body said authorities throughout India have arrested activists, journalists, and other critics of the government on terrorism and other politically motivated charges. The authorities continue to harass rights groups through tax raids, allegations of financial irregularities, and use of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, which regulates foreign funding of nongovernmental organisations, the report claimed.

The demolition campaign launched in several BJP-ruled states is targeting Muslim homes and properties without legal authorisation or due process as summary punishment for protests or alleged crimes, claimed the report.

“The BJP government’s promotion of Hindu majoritarian ideology provokes authorities and supporters to engage in discriminatory and at times violent actions against religious minorities,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW’s South Asia Director. “The authorities should be reining in party members and supporters responsible for abuses instead of jailing critics and shutting down rights groups,” he said.

In the 712-page World Report 2023, its 33rd edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in close to 100 countries. 

Indian authorities misused laws forbidding forced religious conversion to target Christians, especially from Dalit and Adivasi communities. In August, the BJP government in Gujarat approved the early release of 11 Hindus sentenced to life in prison for the gang rape of Bilkis Banu, a pregnant Muslim woman and the murder of 14 members of her family during the 2002 anti-Muslim riots. 

BJP affiliates celebrated publicly with one of its leaders calling the convicted rapists and murderers “sanskari Brahmins” (a certificate of good culture and character). The release of the convicted men and the welcome they received prompted widespread condemnation. The remission of sentences came on the very day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of protecting women’s rights in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in Delhi. The release of the convicted men highlighted the government’s discriminatory stance toward minority communities even in cases of violence against women.

Three years after the Centre abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir state enshrined in Article 370 and split the state into two federally governed territories, the government continues to restrict free expression, peaceful assembly, and other basic rights there. The authorities invoked the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, as well as terrorism allegations under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, to conduct raids and arbitrarily detain journalists and activists and even barred a Pulitzer prize-winning Kashmiri journalist from leaving India without justification.

In September, the Supreme Court did not reach a verdict on whether Muslim female students can wear a hijab in educational institutions in BJP-led Karnataka state, with two judges expressing opposing views.

During India’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council in November, member countries raised concerns and recommended a range of issues including the need to protect minority communities and vulnerable groups, tackle gender-based violence, uphold civil society freedoms, protect human rights defenders, and end torture in custody.

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