Religious Freedom in India on downward trend: UCIRF Report 2019

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ANNUAL REPORT 2019

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)

In 2018, religious freedom conditions in India continued a downward trend. India has a long history as a secular democ- racy where religious communities of every faith have thrived. The constitution guarantees the right to religious freedom, and the nation’s independent judiciary has often provided essential protections to religious minority communities through its juris- prudence. Yet, this history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives—including, at times, the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minori- ties—that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities. Both public and private actors have engaged in this campaign.

In 2018, approximately one-third of state governments increasingly enforced anti-con- version and/or anti-cow slaughter laws discriminatorily against non-Hindus and Dalits alike. Further, cow protection mobs engaged in violence predominantly targeting Muslims and Dalits, some of whom have been legally involved in the dairy, leather, or beef trades for generations. Mob violence was also carried out against Christians under accusations of forced or induced religious conversion. In cases involving mobs killing an individual based on false accusations of cow slaughter or forced conversion, police investigations and prosecutions often were not adequately pursued. Rules on the registration of foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were discriminatorily implemented against religious minority groups.

Religious freedom conditions varied dramatically from state to state, with some states continuing to be relatively open and free for religious minorities, while others—if taken on their own—had “systematic, ongoing, egregious” violations of religious freedom. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India highlighted the deteriorating conditions for religious freedom in some states, concluding that certain state governments were not doing enough to stop violence against religious minorities and, in some extreme instances, impunity was being granted to criminals engaged in communal violence. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seldom made statements decrying mob violence, and certain members of his political party have affiliations with Hindu extremist groups and used inflammatory language about religious minorities publicly. Victims of large- scale attacks in recent years have not been granted justice, and reports of new crimes committed against religious minorities were not adequately accounted for or prosecuted. India’s substantial population both complicates and limits the ability of national and state institutions to address these issues.

Based on these concerns, in 2019 USCIRF again places India on its Tier 2 for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the “sys- tematic, ongoing, egregious” standard for designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). While the Indian government repeatedly has denied USCIRF access to India, the Commission welcomes the opportunity to openly and candidly engage with the government—including the chance for a USCIRF del- egation to visit India—to discuss shared values and interests, including international standards of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights.

The full report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom can be accessed here.