The US State Department released a report on Monday highlighting “continued targeted attacks” on religious minorities in India, including Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindu Dalits, and indigenous communities.
The 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom came out a month before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US on June 22. The report also names Russia and China.
Sharing the details of the state of religious minorities in India, a senior state department official said that he has been saddened to see what has been highlighted in the report.
“The US Holocaust Museum continues to draw considerable attention to the human rights situation in India and lists it as one of its top countries of concern and with – with regards to potential for mass killings there,” the official said.
India is ranked eighth among 162 countries for the highest risk of mass killing by the US holocaust museum’s early warning project.
In its report, the State Department also observed “dehumanizing rhetoric, including open calls for genocide against Muslims, lynching and other hate-fueled violence,” the official said.
The report lists attacks on places of worship and home demolitions, and in some cases, impunity and even clemency for those who have engaged in attacks on religious minorities.
On August 15, the Gujarat government had approved the application under its remission policy to release all the 11 men convicted in the 2002 Bilkis Bano gangrape and murder case. These 11 convicts, who were sentenced to life term, were released after 14 years because their behaviour was found to be good, the Gujarat government had told the Supreme Court in October.
However, a reading of the Gujarat government’s affidavit showed that one of the rape convicts had a first information report filed against him for outraging the modesty of a women while on parole. Nine others had repeatedly surrendered late when they were given parole for which they were warned and, in some case, punished.
Monday’s report also pointed to restrictions on religious attire being imposed at the state level. It was referring to the order passed by the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka on February 5 last year banning clothings that “disturb equality, integrity and public order”. Students wearing hijabs were stopped from attending class in education institutes.
The Report on International Religious Freedom also noted that several parts of India had witnessed violent protests and arson after former BJP members Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal had made derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad on television.
The saffron party had expelled the two members after the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and government officials from 11 countries condemned the remarks.
The report said: “There were numerous reports during the year of violence by law enforcement authorities against members of religious minorities in multiple states, including plainclothes police in Gujarat publicly flogging four Muslim men accused of injuring Hindu worshippers during a festival in October.”
The report was referring to the public flogging of a group of Muslim men by Gujarat Police officials on October 4 after the members of the minority community were accused of allegedly attacking a garba site near a mosque in the Undhela village of Kheda.
The State Department official also said that there has been significant attention from the international community on the situation in India, including human rights organisations.
“We’ll continue to speak directly with our colleagues and counterparts in India regarding these concerns,” the official said. “We’re continuing to encourage the government to condemn violence and hold accountable and protect all groups who engage in rhetoric that’s dehumanizing towards religious minorities and all groups who engage in violence against religious communities and other communities in India.”
He added: “So we’ll continue to work very closely with our civil society colleagues on the ground, with courageous journalists that are working every day to document some of these abuses, and we’ll continue speaking directly with our counterparts in India to address these issues.”
Arindam Bagchi, the spokesperson for India’s ministry of external affairs, said that reports such as the one released on Monday continue to be based on misinformation and flawed understanding. “Motivated and biased commentary by some US officials only serves to undermine further the credibility of these reports,” he said. “We value our partnership with the US and will continue to have frank exchanges on issues of concern to us.”
The State Department had last year too flagged violence against members of the minority community in India. The 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom had listed scores of incidents of violence against minorities including incidents of cow vigilantism, attacks on religious places and properties owned by Muslims and anti-conversion laws in several states of India.
A United States panel, for the fourth year in a row, has also recommended the White House to designate India as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating systematic violations of religious freedom.
The recommendation was made by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which is an independent American government agency that monitors the universal right to freedom of religion and makes policy suggestions to the White House.
The US, however, has refused to accept the recommendation.