The United States, in its 2020 International Religious Freedom Report, has flagged discrimination and violence faced by minorities in India.
The report spoke of the Citizenship Amendment Act, accusations that the Muslims were responsible for spreading the coronavirus in India, and amendments to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, which affect faith-based organisations.
The report, released by the State Department on Wednesday, said that US officials discussed these concerns with majority and Opposition parties, civil society representatives, religious freedom activists and the leaders of religious communities.
The document noted that there were reports of “religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism, and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice and speak about their religious beliefs”.
The US report also highlighted the large-scale communal violence that erupted in Delhi in February last year. Fifty-three people were killed as riots broke out between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it.
“Muslim academics, human rights activists, former police officers, and journalists alleged anti-Muslim bias in the investigation of the riots by New Delhi police,” the report added. “The investigations were still ongoing at year’s end, with the New Delhi police stating it arrested almost equal numbers of Hindus and Muslims.”
The report quoted international non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch as saying that witness accounts and video evidence showed police complicity in the violence.
The CAA, passed in December 2019, provides citizenship to refugees from six minority religious communities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, provided they have lived in India for six years, and entered the country by December 31, 2014. It has been widely criticised for excluding Muslims.
The Religious Freedom Report, then, spoke about how the Indian government and media attributed the spread of the coronavirus to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation that took place in Delhi in March, 2020. The event had renewed stigma against Muslims, triggering a wave of business boycotts and hate speech towards them
“The Ministry of Home Affairs initially claimed a majority of the country’s early COVID-19 cases were linked to that event,” the US report said. “Some members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said conference attendees spread COVID-19 ‘like terrorism’, which politicians and some media outlets described as ‘Corona Jihad’. Courts across the country dismissed numerous charges filed against Tablighi Jamaat members.”
The report added that the amendments to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act were criticised as “constraining civil society by reducing the amount of foreign funding that NGOs, including religious organizations, could use for administrative purposes”.
“In February, the government cancelled the FCRA licenses of five Christian-linked NGOs, cutting off their foreign funding,” the US report said. “In September, the NGO Amnesty International India ceased operations in the country after the government froze its bank accounts in response to a FCRA investigation that the NGO says was motivated by its critical reporting against the government.”
The report also noted that ten states in India had laws restricting religious conversions.
Last month, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom had recommended that the Joe Biden government designate India as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in and tolerating “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” religious freedom violations.
This was the second such recommendation from the panel. It had noted a “sharp downward turn” in religious freedom in India in 2019 and flagged it as a “country of particular concern” in its 2020 report, for the first time since 2004.
In March, India’s status on Freedom House’s report on political rights and civil liberties was lowered to “partly free”. Freedom House is a US government-funded non-governmental organisation.
“Political rights and civil liberties in the country have deteriorated since Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014, with increased pressure on human rights organizations, rising intimidation of academics and journalists, and a spate of bigoted attacks, including lynchings, aimed at Muslims,” the report had said. “The decline only accelerated after Modi’s reelection in 2019.”
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