WASHINGTON, July 30: (NIA): The United States has asked India to “do everything in its power” to protect its citizens facing “rising intolerance and violence” and bring the perpetrators to justice, Press Trust of India reports.
Responding to questions on reports of alleged violence against people eating beef and the assault on two Muslim women carrying buffalo meat in Madhya Pradesh, State Department Spokesman John Kirby said on Friday: “We’re obviously concerned by reports of rising intolerance and violence.As we do in countries facing such problems around the world, we urge the government to do everything in its power to protect citizens and to hold the perpetrators accountable.”
“The US looks forward to continuing to work with the Indian people to realize their tolerant-inclusive vision, which is so deeply in the interests of both India and the US,” the State Department spokesman said.
The attack on the Muslim women carrying buffalo meat was preceded by an attack on Dalit (a depressed caste) youths in Gujarat by cow vigilantes for skinning a dead cow.
US Commission’s Report for 2016
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) which reports to the State Department on every country annually, said in its 2016 report, that it will continue to monitor the situation in India closely during the year ahead to determine “if India should be recommended to the U.S. State Department for designation as a Country of Particular Concern.”
Since the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP0 assumed power in 2014, religious minority communities have been subjected to derogatory comments by BJP politicians and numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by affiliated Hindu nationalist groups, the report for 2016 said.
A USCIRF delegation planned to visit India in March 2016, but the Indian government failed to issue visas to the group, in effect a denial, the reported noted.
Violations against Muslims
During the past year, the Muslim community in India reported increased harassment, violence, and targeted hate campaigns. Muslims often are accused of being terrorists; spying for Pakistan; forcibly kidnapping, converting, and marrying Hindu women; and disrespecting Hinduism by slaughtering cows, the USCIRF report said.
The Muslim community reports that these abuses come from Hindu nationalists, including local and state politicians, and the national government has failed to address these problems and, at times, contributes to them.
Members of the BJP and RSS have stoked religious tensions by claiming that Muslim population growth is an attempt to diminish the Hindu majority. For example, high-ranking BJP parliamentarians, such as Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj, reportedly called for laws to control the Muslim population.
Muslims indicated that they rarely reported abuses because of societal and police bias, and police intimidation by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). Additionally, Muslim community leaders and members reported that mosques were monitored and young boys and men detained regularly and indiscriminately and held without charges on the pretext of countering terrorism ,the report said.
Hostility Toward Christians
Christian communities, across many denominations, also reported numerous, and increased, incidents of harassment and attacks in the last year, which they attribute to Hindu nationalist groups with the BJP’s tacit support, the USCIRF further said.
There were at least 365 major attacks on Christians and their institutions during 2015, compared to 120 in 2014. These incidents affected more than 8,000 Christians.
“For example, in November 2015, Hindu nationalists severely beat 40 Christians worshipping in a private home in Telangana state, killing one woman’s unborn child. In February 2016, a mob of 35 people beat Father Jose Kannumkuzhy of the Ramanathapauram Syro-Malabar diocese and three lay church officials in Tamil Nadu state. Reportedly, local police seldom provided protection, refused to accept complaints, rarely investigated, and sometimes encouraged Christians to move or hide their religion,” the report said.
In 2015, local governments appeared to capitulate to demands for or compel accusations of “forced conversation” made by the RSS to curtail the activities of Christian groups, leading to government-sanctioned restrictions. For example, in February 2016, the Dahar village council in Madhya Pradesh state issued a 5,000 rupees fine (US$75) to the local Christian community for “breaching peace and harmony,” after local RSS members claimed that they were trying to convert Hindus.
In May 2015, authorities in Dhar District, Madhya Pradesh, banned on “law and order” grounds a Pentecostal meeting that takes place annually. The community reported that they sought and were issued the appropriate permits, which were revoked later due to what the community believes was RSS pressure.
According to human rights groups, over 50 villages in the Bastar District of Chhattisgarh State effectively banned all non-Hindu rites, meetings, and practices. In October 2015, the state’s High Court lifted the ban, noting that it violated fundamental rights. However, reports continue that Christians in the area are still subjected to social boycotts; and denied food and clean water.
Most Indian states (24 out of 29, as of 2015) significantly restrict or ban cow slaughter, which is required for Muslims during Eid al-Adha (Festival of the Sacrifice), the American commission pointed out.
This economically marginalizes Muslims and Dalits (who adhere to various religious faiths). Many members of these communities work in the beef industry, including slaughter for consumption, hauling items, and producing leather goods.
Under state criminal laws, individuals can face up to 10 years in jail or a fine of up to 10,000 rupees (US$150) for the slaughter or possession of cows or bulls or the consumption of beef, and mere accusations of violations can lead to violence. For example, in September 2015, in Bisahra village, Uttar Pradesh, a mob of nearly 1,000 people killed Mohammad Akhlaq for allegedly killing a cow, and seriously injured his son. Eight people were arrested and charged with murder and rioting, but no additional information was available by the end of the reporting period.
In October 2015, in Indian-administered Kashmir, Zahid Rasool Bhat was set ablaze and later died of his injuries for allegedly transporting cows to be slaughtered. Five people were arrested for murder, rioting, conspiracy, and the use of explosives. A state government spokesman said a fast-track court would be established.
Forced Conversions to Hinduism
Hindu Nationalist Groups and Forced Conversions In December 2014, Hindu nationalist groups announced plans to “reconvert” thousands of Christian and Muslims families to Hinduism as part of a so-called Ghar Wapsi (returning home) program.
Surge in Communal Violence
According to India’s Union Home Ministry, in 2015, India experienced a 17% increase in communal violence, when compared to the previous year. In 2015, there were 751 reported incidents of communal violence, up from 644 in 2014.
In 2015, 97 people were killed, and 2,246 people injured. Uttar Pradesh had 155 incidents, including 22 deaths and 419 injured.
Other states that had significant numbers of communal violence incidents in 2015 were Bihar (71), Maharashtra (105), Madhya Pradesh (92), Karnataka (105), and Gujarat (55).
US Should Tie Communal Situation to Bilateral Talks
In view of the worsening communal situation in India, the USCIRF recommended that the U.S. government should integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateral contacts with India, including the framework of future Strategic Dialogues. It should increase the U.S. Embassy’s attention to issues of religious freedom and related human rights, including through visits by the Ambassador and other officials to areas where communal and religiously-motivate. And finally it should press the Indian government to allow USCIRF and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom or Belief to visit India.