Government of India enforced religiously discriminatory policies: USCIRF

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Syed Khalique Ahmed

NEW DELHI—The United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its 2023 report, has alleged that the Government of India has enforced “religiously discriminatory policies” that “impact Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits and Adivasis(indigenous peoples and scheduled tribes.”

“Throughout the year, the Indian government at the national, state, and local levels promoted and enforced religiously discriminatory policies, including laws targeting religious conversion, interfaith relationships, the wearing of hijabs, and cow slaughter, which negatively impact Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and Adivasis (indigenous peoples and scheduled tribes),” the report alleged.

Based on the review of religious freedom, the USCIRF has recommended that the US government designate India as a “country of particular concern.”. CPC is a designation given by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) that was passed by the US government in 1998. IRFA prepares a detailed review of religious freedom worldwide and the designation of the countries based on their violations of religious freedom during the reporting period.

USCIRF also recommended that the US “impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/ or barring their entry into the United States under human rights related financial and visa authorities, citing specific religious freedom violations.”

In its latest report, the USIRF has alleged that “religious freedom in India in 2022 has continued to worsen.”

“The national government also continued to suppress critical voices—particularly religious minorities and those advocating on their behalf—including through surveillance, harassment, demolition of property, and detention under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and by targeting nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA),” the report further alleges.

Enforcement of discriminatory laws facilitated a culture of threats against minorities

The report pointed out that “the continued enforcement of discriminatory laws facilitated a culture of impunity for widespread campaigns of threats and violence by mobs and vigilante groups. In March, for example, Karnataka’s state government issued a hijab ban in public schools.”

It stated that the state high court judges upheld the ban on the hijab, by upholding the government’s argument that hijab is not an essential practice in Islam.

State governments criminalized interfaith marriages

“India’s state governments also continued to pass and enforce anti-conversion laws, currently existing in 12 states, including legislation in multiple states aimed to prohibit and criminalize interfaith marriages,” the report said.

It said, “Public notice requirements for interfaith marriages imposed in 10 states have, at times, resulted in violent reprisals against couples.” The report pointed that he ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) committed to enforcing harsher penalties for interfaith marriages in its 2022 election manifesto for Uttar Pradesh.

Violent attacks as justification to protect cows

“Violent attacks were also perpetrated across India under the justification of protecting cows from slaughter or transport, which is illegal in 18 states,” the report alleged.

According to the report, violence against Christians, Muslims, and Dalits around suspicions of cow smuggling were reported in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi.

“In August, BJP member Gyan Dev Ahuja was recorded publicly calling for his listeners to “kill anyone involved in cow slaughter,” the report claims.

“Throughout the year, destruction of property—including places of worship in predominantly Muslim and Christian neighborhoods—continued”, the report goes on to say.

Authorities demolish homes of Muslim families in UP, madrasas in Assam

It said that “in June, local authorities demolished the homes of three Muslim families in Uttar Pradesh following protests against derogatory language used by members of the BJP. Hindu nationalists bulldozed a Catholic center near Mangalore in February and attacked, looted, and destroyed the homes of hundreds of Christians in December for their refusal to convert to Hinduism.”

“In addition, at least four madrasas (Islamic seminaries) were demolished following a statement in May from the Chief Minister of Assam that madrasas should be eliminated,” the report highlights.

Social media platforms spread disinformation against religious minorities

The report also accuses social media platforms “of facilitating widespread disinformation, hate speech, and incitement of violence toward religious minorities,” adding “in February, Twitter removed a caricature shared by the verified account of Gujarat BJP depicting Muslim men hung by a noose.”

The report says that “the Indian government invoked the UAPA and the Sedition Act throughout the year to target freedom of religion and expression, creating an increasing climate of intimidation and fear. Authorities surveilled, harassed, detained, and prosecuted several journalists, lawyers, rights activists, and religious minorities advocating for religious freedom.”

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