US Religious Freedom Report Flags Violence Against Minorities in India

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was a concerning increase in anti-conversion laws, hate speech, demolitions of homes and places of worship for members of minority faith communities

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI – In a rare direct criticism, the United States has noted violent attacks on minority groups in India, especially Muslims and Christians, involving killings, assaults and vandalism of houses of worship.

The State Department’s 2023 report on international religious freedom released in Washington on Wednesday stated that senior US officials have continued to address concerns about religious freedom with their Indian counterparts.

“In India, we see a concerning increase in anti-conversion laws, hate speech, demolitions of homes and places of worship for members of minority faith communities,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said unveiling the report.

The report listed dozens of incidents. Among them was a fatal shooting of a security official and three Muslims on a train near Mumbai by a suspect who was a railway security official. A probe into that case is ongoing.

The report cited examples of attacks against Muslims based on allegations that Muslim men were participating in the slaughter of cows or beef trading.

The US Ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, Rashad Hussain, faulted efforts by Indian police. In India, “Christian communities reported that local police aided mobs that disrupted worship services over accusations of conversion activities, or stood by while mobs attacked them and then arrested the victims on conversion charges,” he was quoted as saying.

Criticism of India by the US is usually restrained due to close economic ties and New Delhi’s importance for Washington to counter China, political analysts quoted by media reports said.

Despite the public criticism in the report, few expect the State Department to take action on India when it drafts its annual blacklist of countries over religious freedom later this year.

Human rights experts say India has seen a rise in attacks on minorities under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who recently won a third term, and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The Indian government denies discriminating against minorities, and says its welfare policies – like food subsidy schemes and electrification drives – aim to benefit all citizens.

Rights advocates contest that and point to anti-Muslim hate speeches, the revoking of Kashmir’s special status, a citizenship law that the UN calls “fundamentally discriminatory” and the demolition of Muslim properties in the name of removing illegal construction.

The State Department report also cited violence in the northeastern state of Manipur that started in May last year between minority, mostly Christian, Kuki and majority, mostly Hindu, Meitei ethnic groups.

Hindu and Christian places of worship were destroyed in Manipur. Citing a local tribal leaders’ forum, the report said over 250 churches were burnt down, more than 200 people were killed and over 60,000 were displaced.

Hindus make up about 80% of India’s 1.4 billion population. Muslims include 14% and Christians over 2%.

The report mentioned anti-conversion legislation in some Indian states that rights advocates say challenges the right to freedom of belief.

Blinken also acknowledged that the United States was also facing its own sharp increase of both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in connection to the Gaza war.

He also singled out EU member Hungary, led by nationalist Viktor Orban, saying that “officials continue to use anti-Semitic tropes and anti-Muslim rhetoric and they penalise members of religious groups who criticise the government.”

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