The US Department of State has noted that Muslims in India are vulnerable to communal violence and discrimination. The state department made the observation on the chapter on India in its “2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices”, released on Tuesday.
The report mentioned discrimination against minorities in India, extrajudicial killings, degrading treatment or punishment by the police and prison officials and arbitrary arrests and detentions by government authorities among other concerns.
“Despite government efforts to address abuses and corruption, a lack of accountability for official misconduct persisted at all levels of government, contributing to widespread impunity,” it said.
The report also flagged violations of human rights in the arrests of activists in the Bhima Koregaon case, cases against Kashmiri journalists under the Public Safety Act and detentions under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention Act).
Persecution of Muslims
The report noted incidents where Muslim men were paraded in public and forced to chant “Jai Shree Ram” in Uttar Pradesh’s Kanpur and police shootings during the eviction of villagers belonging to the community in Assam’s Darrang district last year.
“Muslim communities continued during the year with cases of physical abuse, discrimination, forcible displacement, and lynching for suspected cow smuggling,” it stated.
The reports also mentioned that the laws against religious conversions have been used to target Muslims. Bharatiya Janata Party-led state governments in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have enacted anti-conversion laws since last year to penalise “love jihad”.
The term has been used by Hindutva outfits to push the conspiracy theory that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marrying them with the sole purpose of converting their brides to Islam.
“These ‘love jihad’ laws seek to make forced religious conversion by marriage a criminal offense and have mainly targeted Muslim men attempting to marry Hindu women,” the report stated. “Civil society groups criticized these laws as violating constitutional protections on freedom of religion, but some survey data suggested religious minority communities themselves sometimes expressed support for anti-conversion measures.”
The Citizenship Amendment Act and the exclusion of Muslims from its provisions was also noted in the report.
In 2019, Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, which provides an expedited path to Indian citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian religious minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.
“Following passage of the Act, widespread protests against its passage and the exclusion of Muslims from the statute occurred throughout the country, leading to arrests, targeted communications shutdowns, bans on assembly, and deaths in a few instances,” the report noted.
The report observed that detention laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Public Safety Act were arbitrary.
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention Act) gives authorities the power to detain persons for up to 180 days without charge in cases related to insurgency or terrorism.
The report noted that in 2021, Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir saw an increase in the application of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Since 2019, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has booked more than 2,300 persons in approximately 1,200 cases under the law.
“According to human rights NGOs [non-government organisations], police used torture, mistreatment, and arbitrary detention to obtain forced or false confessions,” the report stated. “In some cases police reportedly held suspects without registering their arrests and denied detainees sufficient food and water.”
The report specifically mentioned the treatment meted out to 84-year-old Stan Swamy, a Jesuit priest who was arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case. The case pertains to caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018. Sixteen people were arrested for allegedly plotting the violence.
Swamy died at a Mumbai hospital, while in police custody, on July 5, nearly nine months after he was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. He had suffered from multiple ailments including Parkinson’s disease, and had contracted the coronavirus infection at the Taloja prison in Navi Mumbai.
The report noted that his bail petition submitted under medical grounds was rejected on multiple occasions by the National Investigation Agency court.
The report also mentioned that prosecutors had delayed starting the trial of activist Umar Khalid.
Khalid was arrested along with other activists, on September 14, 2020, after riots broke out between the supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing the law in North East Delhi between February 23 and February 26 of that year.
The report said that the Armed Forces Special Power Act violated the Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees protection of life and personal liberty. The Act gives Army personnel sweeping powers to search, arrest, and to open fire if they deem it necessary for “the maintenance of public order”.
The report also noted that the Public Safety Act, which is in force in Jammu and Kashmir, permitted the authorities to detain persons without charge or judicial review for up to two years without visitation from family members
“Authorities in Jammu and Kashmir allowed detainees access to a lawyer during interrogation, but human rights groups documented that police routinely employed arbitrary detention and denied detainees access to lawyers and medical attention,” the report stated.
‘Systemic racial violence’ against Dalits
The report pointed out that 50,291 crimes were reported against Dalits in 2020 – a 9.4% increase from 2019.
“Crimes committed against Dalits reportedly often went unpunished, either because authorities failed to prosecute perpetrators or because victims did not report crimes due to fear of retaliation,” the report stated.
The report noted that there were several reports of discrimination against Dalits when it came to access to services, such as health care, education, access to justice, freedom of movement, access to institutions, and marriage.
“Many Dalits were malnourished,” it said. “Most bonded laborers were Dalits, and those who asserted their rights were often victims of attacks, especially in rural areas. As agricultural laborers for higher-caste landowners, Dalits reportedly often worked without pay.”
Harassment of journalists
In its report, the US Department of State noted journalists who are critical of the government in their reporting or on social media platforms were harassed.
“There were reports from journalists and NGOs that government officials at both the local and national levels were involved in intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment and attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, encouraging frivolous lawsuits, and in some areas blocking communication services,” the report stated
It noted that harassment and violence were particularly acute for female journalists. It also said that journalists particularly working in Jammu and Kashmir region faced barriers to free reporting.
It mentioned charges, including of sedition, against India Today anchor Rajdeep Sardesai; National Herald senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande; Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha; The Caravan executive editor Vinod K Jose amongst others for their coverage of a January 26 farmers protest that had turned violent.
The report also noted charges against Scroll.in executive editor Supriya Sharma for a news report critical of the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.