By Our Representative
A new coalition of US-based Indian diaspora minority rights campaigners — Hindus for Human Rights, Indian American Muslim Council, International Commission for Dalit Rights, Open Doors International, Justice for All, and World Evangelical Alliance – has said that minorities in India are on the edge of a precipice as their rights and freedoms have eroded in the face of a growing violent majoritarian ideology.
In a report released ahead of the UN member states preparing to gather in November to review India’s human rights record during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for the fourth time since 2006, the coalition says, it is “alarmed by the deterioration of the situation of minorities, the rule of law, and the overall health of India’s democracy”.
Regretting that both state and non-state actors have targeted minorities, the report points to how crackdown against anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests in Delhi resulted in 18 students and activists, including 16 Muslims, who were part of the anti-CAA protests, being detained in Northeast Delhi under “the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967, India’s principal antiterror law.”
Stating that 13 of these still “continue to be in detention for over two years, and are still denied bail”, the report adds, “In Uttar Pradesh, scores of anti-CAA protestors were detained with numbers ranging from 800 to 4500, according to various statements made by the state authorities. Among those arrested were prominent human rights defenders, lawyers, environmental activists, academics, artists, and a number of minors.”
In Uttar Pradesh, the report says, invocation of UAPA increased significantly since 2017, with over 100 cases being reported every year “disproportionately” targeting Muslims. While Assam “witnessed a similar pattern of abuse of counter-terrorism laws against Muslims”, UAPA was “invoked by authorities in eastern Tripura state against 102 persons, including journalists and advocates reporting anti-Muslim violence in October 2021 on social media.”
Then, the report says, “The National Security Act (NSA), a preventive detention legislation, has also been invoked disproportionately in Uttar Pradesh and other states, against Muslims often for minor offences without any reasonable security implications, such as cow slaughter.” It adds, the NSA was invoked “against 139 people up until August that year, of whom, 88 were Muslims. 76 of these for cow slaughter and 12 for anti-CAA protests.”
The report further says that NGOs, especially those working on human and minority rights issues, “have been targeted for shut down through the Foreign Contribution Registration Act (FCRA) – a statute to regulate foreign remittance in India”, pointing out, “In January 2022, close to 6,000 organizations had their FCRA registration revoked, thus becoming ineligible to receive overseas funds.”
Further, the report says, 20 out of 29 states in India have enacted cow protection laws, according to which cow slaughter is a criminal offence, treated on par with offences such as culpable homicide and slave trading, underling, “Many of these laws make the offence cognizable, non-bailable, and shift the burden of proof on the accused…”
Thus, “In 2020, the Uttar Pradesh Legislature amended the Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act of 1955 by prescribing a punishment of imprisonment for up to 10 years. Karnataka, another BJP-ruled state, passed a more stringent prevention of cow-slaughter and cattle preservation Act in 2021, prescribing a maximum of seven years of jail term for offenders. The laws provide “social and political space for Hindutva vigilantes to justify mob lynching.”
Then, the report says, while many states have enacted the Freedom of Religion Acts or anti-conversion laws, including Odisha (in 1967), Madhya Pradesh (1968, 2021), Arunachal Pradesh (1978), Chhattisgarh (2000), Gujarat (2003), Himachal Pradesh (2006), Jharkhand (2017), Uttarakhand (2018) and Uttar Pradesh (2020), Karnataka (2021), Haryana (2022), in 2021, Madhya Pradesh modified the law with the provision of “prison sentences of up to 10 years for any person found guilty of leading ‘illegal conversions’.”
It underscores, “While in the past, anti-conversion laws criminalized conversion on the basis of force, fraud, inducement, or allurement, the recent trend exemplified by the new law in Madhya Pradesh has been to include interfaith ‘marriage’ as an illegal means of conversion. Karnataka’s new law makes ‘a promise of marriage’ a means of unlawful conversion.”
As a result of the state actors seeking to allegedly undermine minority rights, the report relieves, the non-state actors have become bolder in targeting the minorities. Thus, “Since 2014, and especially since 2017, there has been a steady increase in the incidence of violent attacks by private actors targeted at civilians because of their religious identity. The attacks take the form of mob lynching including those resulting in death, attacks on religious infrastructure; property and livelihoods.”
Offering details, the report says, Muslims have suffered some of the most vicious and sustained of these violent campaigns — carried out on various pretexts, viz. cow slaughter; ‘love jihad’, ‘corona jihad’, ‘land jihad’, ‘employment jihad’, among other bogeys.”
Quoting a database, the report says, there were “212 instances of hate crime between 2014 and 2020. Of these, more than 50 per cent were against Muslims. Almost 30 per cent of all cases resulted in death, over 80 per cent of which were Muslims. In a remarkable 71 per cent of the cases where information was available, police investigated the victims for crimes, rather than the perpetrators.”