‘Authorities have especially harassed and persecuted those protecting the rights of minorities and vulnerable communities’
NEW DELHI — Human Rights Watch on Friday released a damning report saying the Modi government has adopted policies that “systematically discriminate against Muslims and stigmatise critics of the government”.
The global human right group said the “prejudices of the Bharatiya Janata Party” have infiltrated independent institutions, such as the police and the courts, “empowering nationalist groups to threaten, harass, and attack religious minorities with impunity”.
In many states, the criminal justice system increasingly reflects the discriminatory views of the BJP, targeting religious and other minorities and critics of the government, and shielding its supporters, the report says.
It goes on to say the authorities have especially harassed and persecuted those protecting the rights of minorities and vulnerable communities. “BJP leaders and affiliated groups have long portrayed minority communities, especially Muslims, as a threat to national security and to the Hindu way of life”.
The report comes days ahead of the first anniversary of the riots in Delhi where over 50 people were killed, majority of them Muslim, in the communal violence incited by leaders of the ruling BJP against anti-CAA protestors.
“Instead of conducting a credible and impartial investigation, including into allegations that [ruling Bharatiya Janata Party] BJP leaders incited violence and police officials were complicit in attacks, the authorities have targeted activists and protest organizers,” the report says.
“The BJP’s embrace of the Hindu majority at the expense of minorities has seeped into government institutions, undermining equal protection of the law without discrimination,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government has not only failed to protect Muslims and other minorities from attacks but is providing political patronage and cover for bigotry.”
The February 2020 attacks in Delhi had followed months of peaceful protests by Indians of all faiths against the government’s discriminatory citizenship law and proposed policies. BJP leaders and supporters attempted to discredit protesters, particularly Muslims, by accusing them of conspiring against national interests, the report said.
The cases under UAPA against anti-CAA activists, the report says, are “politically motivated”.”
In several cases in which Muslims were arrested, Human Rights Watch found that the police did not follow criminal code requirements, such as producing an arrest warrant, informing the person’s family of the arrest, and providing them a copy of the First Information Report (FIR), the official police case, or ensuring that those arrested have access to legal counsel, including during interrogation. In some cases, Muslim families who had succeeded in identifying BJP leaders and police officials when they filed complaints said they faced increasing pressure to withdraw the complaints,” the report reads.
On the ongoing crackdown against farmer protests, the report says, “The authorities have lately responded to another mass protest, this time by farmers, by vilifying minority Sikh protesters and opening investigations into their alleged affiliation with separatist groups.”
The report says senior BJP leaders accuse Sikhs, who form the major chunk of the protestors, of having a “Khalistani” agenda, a reference to a Sikh separatist insurgency in Punjab.
HRW termed the charges against journalists by police over reports on clashes on republic day between farmer protests and police as “baseless”.
The report mentions the arrest of climate activist Disha Ravi in the ‘toolkit’ case and says that her arrest is part of the “increased targeting of activists, academics, and other critics by the government in recent years.”
The BJP and its supports, the report states, have raised the bogey of “love jihad,” claiming that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marriages to convert them to Islam, labelled Muslims illegal immigrants or even extremists, and accused them of hurting Hindu sentiment over cow slaughter.
Citing several instances of abuse of law, the report says the ‘Love Jihad’ law in Uttar Pradesh has created considerable fear among interfaith couples already at risk of censure from families and Hindu nationalist groups.
Since Modi’s BJP came to power in 2014, it has taken various legislative and other actions that have legitimized discrimination against religious minorities and enabled violent Hindu nationalism, Human Rights Watch said.
The report slams the Modi government for enacting the discriminatory citizenship Amendment Act that leaves out Muslims and revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 and called the restrictions in Kashmir a “violation of people’s basic right”.
These actions violate domestic law and India’s obligations under international human rights law, the report said, reminding the Indian government that it is “also obligated to protect religious and other minority populations, and to fully and fairly prosecute those responsible for discrimination and violence against them.”