Religious Minorities in India Facing Targeted Attacks, Asserts Report

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Effective action is crucial not only for safeguarding democracy but also for promoting tolerance and upholding human rights within India, the report said

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI — India has been witnessing a distressing surge in communal violence, targeted attacks, and hate speeches directed against religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, a report has said.

The third quarter report (July-September) of Washington-based Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) said violence was exacerbating an atmosphere of persecution and discrimination faced by minority groups.

The report pointed out that violent cow vigilantism targeting Muslims has considerably increased as self-proclaimed cow protectors continue to engage in targeted attacks, ostensibly in the name of preventing beef consumption and cattle transportation. 

Additionally, there was a notable uptick in the illegal demolition of Muslim homes and targeting of religious structures, resulting in the displacement of entire communities, particularly in regions of Manipur and Haryana. These incidents are deeply troubling and require immediate attention, the report said.

The report by IAMC, the largest advocacy organisation of Indian Muslim diaspora in the United States, said during the third quarter of 2023, Muslims and Christians remained particularly vulnerable to violent incidents, persecution and discrimination. 

The escalating violence and intolerance has sounded a resounding alarm among human rights organisations, the report said.

In Jammu and Kashmir, human rights violations persisted unchecked, it said and highlighted widespread abuses targeting journalists, political activists, and the local population. “Effective action is crucial not only for safeguarding democracy but also for promoting tolerance and upholding human rights within India,” the IAMC report said.

Communal Violence in Haryana

It expressed its grave concern over communal violence that shook Nuh district in the Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled Haryana state in early August. The report noted that the violence resulted in multiple fatalities and several innocent Muslims were arrested for their alleged role in the riots. 

During the violence that continued for days, the report said, six persons were killed and dozens of others were injured. Besides, hundreds of vehicles, homes, and places of worship were torched. “On August 1, hours after the violence, Hindu extremists targeted a mosque in Gurugram, a suburb in Haryana, and murdered a 19-year-old Imam named Maulana Saad,” the report recalled.

The same day, at least 14 shops were set on fire in Gurugram’s Badshahpur. The attackers targeted shops selling biryani and chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ during the assault, leading to the market’s closure. Similar slogans were reportedly chanted in front of a mosque in Badshahpur as well, the report said. 

Although the police managed to quell the initial unrest within 48 hours, other Muslim localities and places of worship were targeted in other districts of Haryana in the subsequent days, the report said.

Hate Speeches

The IAMC report cited a research paper prepared by US-based journalist Raqib Hameed Naik, scholar Abhyudaya Tyagi and Paris-based journalist Aarushi Srivastava, documenting all verified instances of hate speech events organised by Hindu far-right groups against India’s Muslim minorities in the first half of 2023. 

The report revealed that in the first 181 days of 2023, there were 255 recorded instances of hate speech gatherings targeting Muslims across 17 regions, including Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir. 

“This alarming statistic highlights an average of over one hate speech event occurring daily. Overwhelmingly, 80% of these hate speech events occurred in BJP-ruled states and union territories. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat witnessed the highest number of hate speech gatherings, with Maharashtra alone accounting for 29% of such incidents, while seven out of the top eight states with the highest number of hate speech events are governed by the BJP and its coalition partners. Around 42% of all hate speech gatherings were organised by RSS-affiliated groups,” it said.

The report found that 51% of all the hate speech gatherings featured anti-Muslim conspiracy theories such as “love jihad,” “land jihad,” “mazar jihad,” “halal jihad,” and others. A concerning 33% of all the gatherings explicitly called for violence against Muslims. About 11% of events included explicit calls for Hindus to boycott Muslims. Disturbingly, 4% of all the events featured hate-filled and sexist speeches explicitly targeting Muslim women. Nearly 12% of events featured calls to arms. Overall, 33% of hate speech events occurred in states that have already conducted or are set to conduct state legislative elections in 2023, while over 36% occurred in states slated to hold legislative elections in 2024. Nearly 70% of these events were reported in states with legislative elections either in 2023 or 2024.

Targeting of Christians 

The IAMC report also shed light on persecution of the Christian community. It enumerated several attacks on Christians across the country including an incident involving Alexander Coates Reed, the principal of DY Patil High School in Talegaon in Maharashtra. 

On July 4, the principal got assaulted by members of the Bajrang Dal and some parents, allegedly for forcing students to recite Christian prayers and installing CCTV cameras in the girls’ toilet.

However, subsequent investigations found no evidence of forced prayer and that the CCTVs were not inside the toilets but in common areas. 

On July 10, ten individuals, including a pastor named Baburam, were arrested in Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh, for allegedly engaging in illegal religious conversion. Authorities in BJP-ruled states have weaponised religious conversion laws to target minorities, particularly Christians. 

On July 23, a mob of approximately 30 radical Hindus violently attacked a Christian pastor and his family in the Rae Bareli district of Uttar Pradesh, accusing them of converting villagers to Christianity. 

On July 26, a Christian orphanage in Madhya Pradesh was abruptly shut down due to allegations of religious conversion attempts. Child rights officials conducted a surprise raid on the orphanage, which housed 73 children, and accused the orphanage of engaging in religious conversion after discovering copies of the Bible inside.

On August 8, posters restricting the entry of Muslim and Christian traders were displayed in Dhaura gram panchayat, located in the Ashoknagar district of Madhya Pradesh. This proposal was introduced by the BJP district president and Dhaura gram panchayat head, Bablu Yadav, who emphasised the need to verify traders’ religious affiliations amid concerns of ‘love jihad’ and religious conversions. 

During a Christian prayer gathering on August 20, a disturbing incident unfolded at the Siyyon Prarthna Bhawan in Delhi’s Tahirpur area. A group of individuals associated with the Bajrang Dal entered the building and disrupted the prayers by loudly proclaiming promises of a ‘Hindu nation’ over loudspeakers. Armed with swords and sticks, the mob began to assault Christian community members with sticks while they were praying and destroyed Bible copies. Several people suffered injuries during the attack, with allegations of attempted harassment and sexual assault of the women. 

In late August, police in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, issued intrusive questionnaires to around 40 churches, requesting information on Christian activities over the past three months. The questionnaires covered various aspects, including Christian objectives, suspicious conversions, NGO operations, and foreign funding. This move, considered discriminatory and intrusive, has led many churches to shift to online services due to concerns that the data may be used by Hindu extremists to further target Christians.

In Uttar Pradesh, 17 individuals were arrested under the state’s anti-conversion law during a Sunday prayer service on September 17. A local villager, Subhash Chandra Jatav, accused another villager, Dinesh Chandrashekhar, of inviting him to a prayer service where the organisers allegedly tried to convert people to Christianity and offered financial support in return. 

Uttar Pradesh has reported the highest number of incidents related to religious conversions in India over the past eight months, with the state’s anti-conversion law being enforced vigorously. 

On September 26, Hindu extremists stormed St. Mary’s Convent School in Deori, Madhya Pradesh, accusing the school of disrespecting a Hindu deity and demanding a police investigation. The school follows an inclusive approach, celebrating festivals of all religions and providing education to all students equally, regardless of their religious background. Christian leaders view such incidents as attempts to tarnish the school’s image and create communal discord ahead of the state elections, as Hindu chauvinist BJP faces a challenging election in a state it has previously governed for 18 years.

Violence in Manipur 

The catalyst for the latest outbreak of violence in Manipur occurred in May, sparked by plans to recognise the Meitei as a Scheduled Tribe (ST), a status already granted to the Kuki. ST status would provide Meiteis with affirmative action benefits, including government job and college admission quotas. Fearing a reduction in their entitlements, Kuki groups protested. The clashes can be traced back to long-standing tensions between the Meitei majority, predominantly Hindu, and the Kuki-Zo, mainly Christian tribal groups. These tensions have historically revolved around competition for land and public jobs, with some local leaders accused of exacerbating ethnic divisions for political gain. This has resulted in at least 180 deaths — mostly from the Kuki ethnic community — alleged acts of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, extensive property destruction, torture, and the forced displacement of approximately 60,000 people. 

Recommendations 

In view of the sustained attacks on religious minorities, IAMC urged the Indian government to prioritise enacting and enforcing robust legislation that specifically protects their rights. This legislation should address hate speech, communal violence, and targeted attacks, holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. It should also guarantee the right to freedom of religion, ensuring that individuals can practice their faith without fear of persecution or coercion. 

To address the issue of human rights violations and ensure impartial investigations, IAMC suggested  establishment of independent oversight bodies to monitor and report cases of abuse and discrimination against religious minorities. 

The government, IAMC said, should immediately take decisive action to halt the violence against Kuki-Zomi tribals in Manipur. The center and state governments, it said, should enforce stringent measures to protect ethnic minorities and ensure their safety. 

On mob lynching, the report recommended that the Union government must pass a bill to protect religious minorities from Hindu militias and cow vigilante groups. 

It said BJP-led state governments must uphold every citizen’s right to a safe home and immediately stop bulldozing Muslim homes, livelihoods, and places of worship in the name of anti-encroachment drives.

The international community, the report said, should engage with the Indian government and express concern over the treatment of religious minorities. Diplomatic efforts should encourage India to uphold its commitment to religious freedom and human rights as enshrined in the Indian constitution and various international agreements. Sanctions or trade measures may be considered if there is a persistent failure to address the issue. International pressure can serve as an incentive for the Indian government to take concrete steps toward safeguarding the rights of religious minorities and promoting inclusivity and diversity, the report said. 

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