India’s 1.3 billion population is around 80 per cent Hindu, 14 per cent Muslim, 2.3 per cent Christian, 1.7 per cent Sikh, 0.7 per cent Jain and smaller groups of Zoroastrians, Jewish and Bahá’ís.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2020
The constitution of India is secular and guarantees protection to its religious minorities. However, in practice things have worsened drastically under the Hindu Nationalist (Hindutva) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi as the prime minister since 2014. BJP is the political wing of a militant Hindu extremist organisation RSS.
Under BJP rule, India has become a country where Muslims, Christians, and other minorities are at greater risk.
Many fear that the controversial and discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which granted Indian citizenship to selected minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh will be used in conjunction with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to deem minorities as “illegal immigrants”. The CAA provoked countrywide protests, often met with violent repression by the authorities.
February 2020 saw significant anti-Muslim violence in Delhi that left 24 people dead and 189 injured. Mosques and shops were torched, people dragged out of their homes, lynched, and burnt alive. Many families were forced to leave due to the fear of more violence. The police were alleged to have incited and helped the violence.
There has also been a rise in incidents of violence against Christians. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), 327 cases of persecution were documented in 2020. At least five Christians were murdered and six churches were burnt or demolished in religiously motivated attacks. In addition, EFI noted 26 incidents of social boycotts where Christian communities were shunned by their non-Christian neighbours due to their religious identity. Many Christians have been detained without trial.
Anti-conversion laws continue to threaten religious minorities in particular Christians, Muslims and scheduled caste (Dalits) – USCIRF have commented they “create a hostile, and on occasion violent, environment for religious minority communities because they do not require any evidence to support accusations of wrongdoing”. On 21 June, Pastor Rao was dragged and badly beaten on the false accusation of conversion by a violent mob of over 150 men. Muslims and Christians are often arrested by the officials on false charges of conversions. Haryana has become the latest state to consider the introduction of such a law.
Cow slaughter vigilantes continue to create sectarian violence. It often leads to brutal incidents of mob lynching. The police and the state are seen as complicit in this violence.
The lockdown continues in Indian-administered Kashmir alongside a major crackdown against the civilian population, civil society organisations and activists. Several laws have been passed to change the demography of the Muslim-majority states of Jammu and Kashmir. Since May 2020, over 25,000 non-local people have been given settlement rights whereas the locals are forced to live in an atmosphere of fear and a complete shutdown and their freedom is curbed. On 29 August Shi’a Muslims were attacked and pellets were fired by the security forces on participating in the Muharram procession, an important religious procession. Over 200 Shi’a Muslims were detained and over seven were arrested under anti-terror law.
FCDO Human Rights Report 2020
India is currently not a Human Rights Priority Country for the UK government.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
FoRB has come heavily under attack in India in recent years. With the rise of Hindutva (Ultra-Hindu Nationalism) and extremist narratives, incidents of violence, and particularly mob violence, against religious minorities have grown worse. It has affected non-Hindus, Dalits and Adivasi particularly badly.
Hindutva espouses the idea that ‘if you are not Hindu, you are not Indian’. The narrative of Hindutva is publicly promoted by Hindu extremists and some government representatives, leading to Indian Christians and Muslims being labelled ‘foreigners’ and making them vulnerable to attack by these extremists. Though religious discrimination has existed for years in India, hatred against Christians, Hindu Dalits and Muslim minorities has increased recently.
In Gujarat, the residents of a colony were asked not to sell properties to Dalits and Muslims. In another incident, in Tamil Nadu, Dalits were not allowed to bury their dead in the same area as Brahmins (upper-caste Hindus).
More worryingly, Indian society is witnessing a new dangerous trend of mob violence by right-wing Hindutva nationalists who target anyone they disagree with, not just Muslims or Christians. As Human Rights Watch South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly puts it, “[the] culture of mob violence” has grown.
According to an audit of hate-crime incidents covered in the media by IndiaSpend, between 2009-2019, around 281 incidents were published in which, collectively, more than 100 people have been killed and 691 injured. 73% of these hate incidents were against Muslims and other minorities for reasons relating to ‘cow protection’, interfaith marriages and conversions.
During 2018, 477 hate incidents against Christians were recorded by the Indian NGO Persecution Relief. Recording attacks against the faith, the New-Delhi base Alliance Defending Freedom noted attacks on Christians in 2018, and 218 to the end of August 2019. This included murder and sexual violence. According to one report, more than 100 churches were closed either because of attacks by extremists or because of state intervention.
In 2019, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) listed India as a Tier 2 Country of Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) for “tolerating religious freedom violations.” It should be noted that the Indian government has refused to grant USCIRF access to India on several occasions and that hate incidents have risen significantly since the BJP government came to power. Many Indians believe that Prime Minister Modi has created an atmosphere of fear that has inspired and accelerated violence.
During the second term of Modi’s presidency, there has also been a rise in incidents of communal violence.
On 22 June 2019, a young Muslim man, 24-year-old Tabrez Ansari, was lynched by a violent Hindu mob who forced him to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ (Glory to Lord Ram). The perpetrators made a video where Tabrez can be seen begging for life. This led to country-wide protests. Due to public pressure, police arrested 11 people who were later released. In another incident, a Hindu mob chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and pushed a 26-year-old Muslim teacher out of a train. The same week, a 25-year-old Muslim cab driver was beaten by some men who asked him to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
There have been 10 incidents of cow-related violence so far in 2019. Lynching has continued to happen frequently in BJP governed states including Assam in April 2019, Bihar in July 2019 and Uttar Pradesh in May 2019.
Such violence is also suffered by other minority groups: Christians endured violence throughout 2019. On 3 February, a 40-strong mob attacked a church in Karkeli village, near Raipur, the state capital of Chhattisgarh. 15 worshippers were hospitalised after church members were beaten with sticks. This was part of a pattern of discrimination against the Christian community. Local Hindus have also refused to employ Christians who will not participate in Hindu rituals, cutting Christians villagers off from the water supply, and preventing them from burying their dead.
Some of the problems encountered by Christians have been caused by the state. In May 2019, local authorities sent 50 workers to demolish a church-run school and hostel for tribal children near Lichapeta village, Odisha State, beating school staff who protested. The local Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh group had alleged the school was covertly evangelising children, which school authorities strongly denied.
The US State Department has noted concerns over the lack of an adequate response to the incidents of violence against minorities. In a recent report, the State Department noted that, “Authorities often failed to prosecute perpetrators of ‘cow vigilante’ attacks, which included killings, mob violence, and intimidation.” The families of the victims also fear violence as they try to seek justice.
Authorities not only fail to provide justice to the victims of mob violence, but Indian legislators have been seen chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in the presence of Prime Minister Modi when Muslim members of parliament were taking their oath to serve the people of India.
In February 2019, just before India’s elections, the Pulwama attack provoked hate speech and violence against Kashmiris. Around 700 Kashmiri students, traders and workers returned to Kashmir to escape this violence. Violence against Kashmiris and Muslims was recorded and shared widely on social media, while right-wing groups and some news channels also encouraged such incidents.
In Kashmir, in an act considered illegal under the constitution of India, Prime Minister Modi ended the special autonomous status of the valley on 5 August by revoking articles 370 and 35 A of the constitution. There has been a rise in state violence since a military curfew was imposed and mobile services, internet and television connections have been shut blocking all communication with the outside world. Thousands of Kashmiri Muslims have been detained or imprisoned. Muharram processions remain forbidden and this communication blockade prevents Shia Muslims commemorating according to their religious beliefs.
The National Register of Citizens (NRC) was created in 1951 to determine who was born in Assam State, and is therefore Indian, and who might be a migrant from neighbouring Bangladesh. The register was updated for the first time in August 2019 and made around 1.9 million people who could not prove they were resident in Assam before the 70s stateless. Although the NRC does not exclusively target Muslims, it does have a huge impact on them and could lead to the deportation of thousands of minority Muslims. In August 2019, USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins and Commissioner Anurima Bhargava expressed deep concerns over the misuse of the registration. According to Bhargava, it could lead to a hostile atmosphere for the Muslim community in north-eastern India.
Anti-conversion laws in India restrict the freedom of individuals to convert. In December 2018, USCIRF published a report on anti-conversion laws in South Asia and it puts India in the list of countries of concern.
In the UK Parliament, 2020
Lord Alton 20 July; Conor McGinn 30 June; Sir George Howarth 1 June; Baroness Tonge 10 March; Paul Bristow 2nd March; Lord Alton 14 January; Lord Alton 14 January; Lord Singh 7 January; Afzal Khan 19 December; Steve Baker 20 December;