New Delhi: India was among a handful of countries that saw religious hostilities in the early stages of the covid-19 pandemic in 2020, said a report released on Tuesday by the US think-tank Pew Research Center. Overall, the country had the highest rate of social tensions along religious lines globally in 2020, the report showed. The increase in hostilities in the first pandemic year also reflects, somewhat, in India’s official data. However, the government’s reaction will be watched, considering its regular dismissal of adverse rankings in the recent past. Here’s what the Pew report says:
AT 9.4 out of a maximum possible score of 10, India’s Social Hostilities Index (SHI) in 2020 was worse than neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan, and a further increase in its own index value for 2019, the Pew data showed. A higher score is worse. The report covered 198 countries.
The SHI measures acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups. The index comprises 13 metrics, including religion-related armed conflict or terrorism and mob or sectarian violence. Questions used to compute the SHI included whether the country saw violence motivated by religious hatred or bias, whether individuals faced harassment or intimidation motivated by religious hatred or bias and whether there was mob violence against those of particular religious groups. Among the most populous countries, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt and Bangladesh had “very high” social hostilities involving religion, according to the report.
INDIA FARED much better on a second index: the Government Restrictions Index (GRI). This index looks at laws, policies and state actions restricting religious beliefs and practices. China ranked the worst, with a score of 9.3. India’s 34th rank was enough to categorize it among countries with “high” levels of such government restrictions. The GRI comprises 20 measures, including efforts by governments to ban particular faiths, prohibit conversion, limit preaching or give preferential treatment to one or more religious groups. For India, some of these arise from long-standing laws, though the score has risen in the last decade. While there may be correlations between countries with high social hostilities as well as government restrictions on religion, in countries like China, tight government control over religion means there is little space for social hostilities to bubble over, Samirah Majumdar, the report’s lead author, told Mint in an interview.
THE REPORT also looked at the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on religious persecution in 2020. India was one of just four countries in the world that saw pandemic-related social hostilities against religious groups involving physical violence or vandalism by private individuals or organizations. Argentina, Italy and the US were the others. “In India, there were multiple reports of Muslims being attacked after being accused of spreading the coronavirus,” the report said. India was also among the countries in which private individuals or organizations linked the spread of the coronavirus to religious groups, the report said, citing the circulation of Islamophobic hashtags such as “Corona Jihad”. But 2020 was not India’s worst year on either index: 2016 was the worst with respect to social hostilities, and 2018 on government restrictions.
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