There has been a “concerning increase” in hate speech, anti-conversion laws, and demolitions of homes and places of worship of members of religious minorities in India, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday.

Blinken made the comments while unveiling the US state department’s 2023 International Religious Freedom Report.

The report flagged that violence occurring at the societal level, sometimes with impunity, contributed to the repression of religious communities, said Rashad Hussain, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

“In India, for example, Christian communities reported that local police aided mobs that disrupted worship services over accusations of conversion activities or stood by while mobs attacked them and then arrested the victims on conversion charges,” Hussain said.

The report covered the period from January 1, 2023 to December 31, 2023.

It mentioned that Christians and Muslims were arrested under laws banning forced religious conversions, which the religious groups said in some cases were used to “harass and imprison members of religious minority groups on false and fabricated charges or for lawful religious practices”.

The report noted that attacks on members of religious minority groups included killings, assaults, and intimidation, including cases of “cow vigilantism” based on allegations that Muslim men were participating in cow slaughter or trade in beef.

“There were also attacks on religious leaders, disruption of Christian and Muslim worship services, vandalism of religious minorities’ houses of worship, and violence between religious groups,” it said.

It also said that following reports of assault and harassment of Christians in the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted nearly 100 representatives from different denominations of the community.

However, more than 3,200 individuals from the Christian community had dissociated themselves from the meeting, citing growing anti-minority attacks and anti-minority hate speech by certain government officials, the report noted.

The US report cited non-governmental organisations such as Human Rights Watch as saying that the “actions and statements by members and supporters of his [Modi’s] BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] contradicted” government officials’ positive statements.

The International Religious Freedom Report also mentioned that the new criminal laws that will come into effect from July 1 included provisions to criminalise 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 purportedly seeking to marry non-Muslim women to convert them to Islam,” the report said. “Opponents said the new laws were unnecessary and the strict penalties were out of line with lighter penalties given for more serious offenses.”