Religious tolerance and freedom continued to deteriorate in India in 2016, the United States State Department said in its annual International Religious Freedom Report released on Tuesday. The report accused Hindu nationalist groups, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishva Hindu Parishad, of intimidating, harassing and resorting to violence against minority communities and Dalits in 10 of India’s 29 states.
“In 2016, ‘cow protector’ vigilantes – often Hindu nationalists – intimidated, harassed, and attacked Muslims and Hindu Dalits for allegedly slaughtering, selling, or consuming cow products,” said the report. “While Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke publicly about the importance of communal tolerance and religious freedom, members of the ruling party [the BJP] have ties to Hindu nationalist groups implicated in religious freedom violations, used religiously divisive language to inflame tensions and called for additional laws that would restrict religious freedom.”
The US State Department report also highlighted the increasing number of attacks by Hindu nationalists, including local and state Bharatiya Janata Party members.
It further said that religious minorities had started feeling increasingly insecure in India and had no authority to turn to when communal crimes take place. It alleged that Muslims rarely report such incidents because of “societal and police bias” and intimidation by the RSS.
“Members of the Muslim community report that their abusers often accuse them of being terrorists, spying for Pakistan, forcibly kidnapping, converting and marrying Hindu women, and disrespecting Hinduism by slaughtering cows,” it read.