'Rise In Communal Violence, Religious Intolerance And Hate Speech In India,' Says US Report

'Rise In Communal Violence, Religious Intolerance And Hate Speech In India,' Says US Report

The annual report of International Religious Freedom of the year has been released by the US Department of State. The report remarks on the religious intolerance, inflammatory comments on minorities, and communal violence inspected over the span of the year 2023.

Manasi KambleUpdated: Thursday, June 27, 2024, 02:50 PM IST
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Report on International Religious Freedom | X (screen Grab)

The International Religious Freedom Report is an annual report that is published by the US Department of State. It highlights the state of religious freedom in every country around the world. The latest report was released on June 26 in the presence of United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the US ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain.

What Is The International Religious Freedom Report?

The International Religious Freedom Report provides information on the state of religious freedom, government policies that violate religious beliefs and practices of groups, religious denominations, and individuals, as well as U.S. policies promoting religious freedom across almost every country and territory globally. The report covers the period from January 1 to December 31 of the previous calendar year.

Concerns About India

The report highlighted that violence occurring at the societal level, sometimes at worship places, contributed to the repression of religious communities. The US ambassador for international religious freedom, Rashad Hussain, mentioned that in India, local police were reported to have aided mobs that disrupted worship services or stood by while mobs attacked members of Christian communities and then arrested the victims on conversion charges.

The United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, stated that there has been a "concerning increase" in hate speech, anti-conversion laws, and demolitions of homes and places of worship for members of religious minorities in India. Blinken made these remarks while unveiling the US State Department’s 2023 International Religious Freedom Report.

Highlights Of The Report

In 2022, there were 272 instances of communal violence, including attacks on religious minority groups, including killings, assaults, and intimidation. The United Christian Forum reported 731 attacks on Christians in the year, with the highest number in Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The Supreme Court criticized the central government and the Manipur state government for failing to halt the violence, leading to officials being appointed to investigate incidents, ensure humanitarian assistance, and rebuild homes and places of worship. Public celebrations of Hindu festivals sometimes led to communal violence, especially when they involved processions through areas where Muslims were in the majority.

Criminalizing Religious Conversions Laws

In December, Parliament approved new criminal laws that included provisions to criminalize making false promises and concealing one’s identity to sexually exploit a woman, including for marriage. Media commentators said the new laws could be used to punish Muslim men seeking to marry non-Muslim women to convert them to Islam. Opponents said the new laws were unnecessary, and the strict penalties were out of line with lighter penalties given for more serious offenses. Prime Minister Modi reiterated calls to enact a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) at the national level as called for in the constitution instead of a system of separate personal laws for religious communities. Muslim, Sikh, Christian, and tribal leaders, and some state government officials opposed the initiative on the grounds it was part of a project to turn the country into a “Hindu Rashtra” (a Hindu Nation). Some UCC proponents, including opposition politicians, said a UCC would promote greater equality, including for women, by preventing polygamy or inequitable inheritance within personal religious laws.

International nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), however, stated that the “actions and statements by members and supporters of his (Modi’s) BJP party (Bharatiya Janata Party) contradicted” government officials’ positive statements.  They further stated that the government should investigate and prosecute those responsible for carrying out violence against members of minority groups.

Communal Violence Incidents

Cow Slaughter:

In 2022, the National Crimes Record Bureau reported 272 instances of communal violence, compared to 378 in 2021. Throughout the year, there were attacks on religious minority groups, including killings, assaults, and intimidation. These incidents occurred in various states and involved "cow vigilantism" against Muslim men suspected of being involved in cow slaughter or beef trade. Additionally, there were reports of attacks on religious leaders, disruptions of Christian and Muslim worship services, vandalism of religious minorities' places of worship, and violence between religious groups. In Jammu and Kashmir, Islamic groups reportedly attacked non-Muslims during the year.

Increase In Attacks On Christians

In December, the United Christian Forum (UCF) reported 731 attacks on Christians in the year, compared with 599 such incidents in 2022. The UCF's data, broken down by state, showed the highest number of incidents in Uttar Pradesh (301) and Chhattisgarh (152). In April, the government told the Supreme Court that the UCF had exaggerated claims of attacks against Christians in order to create a false narrative. In July, the UCF’s national coordinator stated, “The government's data on violence against Christians downplays the severity of the situation.”

Manipur Violence

During the violence in Manipur that began on May 3, clashes between the minority Christian Kuki and majority Hindu Meitei ethnic groups resulted in the destruction of Hindu and Christian places of worship, as well as two synagogues belonging to the Bnei Menashe Jewish community. The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum and international media reported at least 253 churches being burned down, over 200 fatalities, and more than 60,000 people being displaced due to the violence. Most of the attacks on religious sites occurred in the initial days of the conflict, when interethnic violence was at its peak. The deployment of security forces eventually reduced widespread violence, but some isolated incidents continued until the end of the year. Due to the close link between religion and ethnicity in this conflict, it was difficult to categorize specific acts of violence solely based on religious identity. However, there were reports of Meitei Hindus attacking churches serving Meitei Christians, who also faced pressure to convert from Christianity. A local Meitei Christian leader mentioned that the Meitei Christians had been "attacked from both sides." The Supreme Court criticized the central government and the Manipur state government for failing to halt the violence, particularly in the early stages of the conflict. As a result, officials were appointed to investigate incidents of violence, ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and rebuild homes and places of worship.

Communal Violence Surges Over Festivities

Public celebrations of Hindu festivals sometimes led to communal violence, especially when they involved processions through areas where Muslims were in the majority. Media and NGOs reported that the processions were often organized by the BJP and affiliated Hindu nationalist groups, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). In several states including West Bengal, Bihar, and Haryana, communal violence resulted in the death of nine people, injuries to dozens, and the destruction or damage of mosques, a madrassah, and other buildings. It was reported that police arrested several hundred people in connection with the violence.

In Haryana, 1,208 structures in the affected area were demolished, with civil society organizations and international NGOs accusing authorities of targeting mainly Muslim homes and shops. The authorities claimed that the structures belonged to people involved in the violence or were illegally built on government land. The Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered the authorities to stop the demolitions, and the Supreme Court condemned hate speech and calls for economic boycotts against the Muslim community. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation expressed "deep concern" about the violence and vandalism against Muslims in several states, stating that it reflected a "systemic targeting" of the Muslim community in India.

Inflammatory Remarks On Minorities

Some public figures made remarks that members of religious minority groups and Hindus found to be inflammatory. Christians and Muslims in the Bastar area of Chhattisgarh requested local authorities to take action against local leaders of the BJP, the VHP, and other organizations that called for an embargo of Christian and Muslim businesses at a rally on April 10. Following the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, international media reported "a flood of disinformation" on social media falsely claiming that the country was threatened by its Muslim population, especially in Muslim-majority areas. In October, speakers at a conference organized by the Hindu nationalist umbrella organization Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) said that Hindus were "raising their voices against the injustice they face" because they were being "targeted" by other groups with charges of making hate speech around the country.

US Steps In For Improvement

In a joint statement during Prime Minister Modi’s state visit to Washington in June, the U.S. and Indian governments reaffirmed “their shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, inclusion, pluralism, and equal opportunities for all citizens.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says "Today, the State Department is releasing its annual report on the status of international religious freedom...The Department’s report tracks these kinds of threats to religious freedom in almost 200 countries. For example, blasphemy laws in Pakistan help foster a climate of intolerance and hatred that can lead to vigilantes and mob violence...In India, we see a concerning increase in anti-conversion laws, hate speech, demolitions of homes and places of worship for members of minority faith communities...Today religious freedom is still not respected for millions of people around the world. Some countries place restrictions on wearing certain types of religious dress; others enforce it. Here in the United States, reports of hate crimes and other incidents targeting both Muslims and Jews have gone up dramatically..."

The report highlights the commitment of both the U.S. and Indian governments to shared values like freedom, democracy, human rights, and religious freedom. This commitment was reaffirmed through joint statements issued by Prime Minister Modi and President Biden during high-level visits. However, the report also acknowledges concerns raised by the U.S. regarding recent developments in religious freedom within India.

While the report emphasizes U.S. commitment to promoting religious freedom in India, it acknowledges limitations. The information presented is based on reports from various sources, and the U.S. government cannot independently verify all the details. The report also clarifies that the inclusion or exclusion of specific cases doesn't reflect the severity of the issue but rather aims to provide a broader understanding of the situation.

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