The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government continued systematic discrimination and stigmatisation of religious and other minorities in India, particularly Muslims, the rights group Human Rights Watch said in its “World Report 2022” on Thursday.

“BJP supporters increasingly committed violent attacks against targeted groups,” the group said in its annual report. “The government’s Hindu majoritarian ideology was reflected in bias in institutions, including the justice system and constitutional authorities like the National Human Rights Commission.”

To substantiate its findings, the report cited the Gujarat government’s decision to grant early release to 11 life-term convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, the “online auction” of over 100 Muslim women on an online platform and the demolition of properties mostly owned by Muslims.

The report also made mentions about arrests of fact-checking website Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair and journalist Siddiqui Kappan, the targeted killings in Jammu and Kashmir, and the raids by tax officials on non-governmental organisations.

Tirana Hassan, the acting executive director of Human Rights Watch, said that the Narendra Modi-led BJP government “mimicked many of the same abuses that have enabled Chinese state repression – systematic discrimination against religious minorities, stifling of peaceful dissent, and use of technology to suppress free expression – to tighten its grip on power”.

The body’s South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly said that BJP’s promotion of Hindu majoritarian ideology provoked authorities and its supporters to engage in “discriminatory and at times violent actions against religious minorities”.

“The authorities should be reining in party members and supporters responsible for abuses instead of jailing critics and shutting down rights groups,” Ganguly added.

On Jammu and Kashmir

In its report, Human Rights Watch noted that violence continued in the Valley three years after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status.

“Violence continued with 229 reported deaths as of October, including 28 civilians, 29 security force personnel, and 172 suspected militants,” the report said. “Minority Hindus [Kashmiri Pandits] and Sikh communities in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley came under attack.”

The report added that Kashmiris complained that some of the suspected militants killed in gunfights were civilians, but no independent investigation was carried.

On Dalits and Muslims

The Human Rights Watch also criticised the demolition of properties, mostly owned by Muslims, in response to communal clashes.

“Although they [authorities] tried to justify the demolitions by claiming the structures were illegal, the destruction appeared intended to be collective punishment for Muslims,” the report observed.

A municipal demolition drive in Jahangirpuri in New Delhi. | AFP

In recent months, authorities have on several occasions resorted to using bulldozers to demolish the houses of persons accused of crimes. However, there are no legal provisions that allow for the demolition of a house as a punitive measure.

Most instances of such demolitions have taken place in states ruled by the BJP.

On the Gujarat government’s decision to grant remission of sentence to 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case, the Human Rights Watch noted that BJP affiliates “celebrated publicly”.

“The action highlighted the government’s discriminatory stance toward minority communities even in cases of violence against women,” it said.

It added: “Indian authorities misused laws forbidding forced religious conversion to target Christians, especially from Dalit and Adivasi communities.”

On journalists and civil society members

The Human Rights Watch said that law enforcement agencies arrested journalists critical of the government on politically motivated charges. It took note of the arrests of journalists Rupesh Kumar Singh in Jharkhand and Siddique Kappan in Uttar Pradesh.

The report also added that the arrest of Zubair in June “appeared to be a reprisal for exposing a television news network that aired controversial remarks of a BJP politician [Nupur Sharma] about Prophet Mohammed, leading to criticism by several Muslim governments”.

Alt News co-founder Mohammad Zubair leaves from Tihar Jail after being granted interim bail by the Supreme Court on July 20. | PTI Photo

On the arrest of activist Teesta Setalvad and police officers RB Sreekumar and Sanjeev Bhatt, the rights body said that police action was in “apparent reprisal for pursuing accountability for the 2002 mob violence targeting Muslims in Gujarat”.

The tax raids on the offices of Oxfam India, Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research, and Bengaluru-based Independent and Public Spirited Media Foundation were politically motivated, the Human Rights Watch said.