By Minall Khalid 17 August 2023
“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC…,” states the Indian Constitution about the pluralistic identity of Indian polity and social fabric. Here, the term “secular” signifies that India is a secular state. This means that the Indian government is impartial in matters of religion and does not favor any particular religion as the state religion. However, in recent years, India has witnessed a shift away from its constitutional principles of pluralism and secularism, with a discernible movement towards Hindutva, an ideology aiming to establish India as a Hindu state. This shift has raised concerns about the rights and well-being of religious minorities.
The 2023 Annual Report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) portrays a grim picture of India’s religious freedom and human rights. Government policies inadequately protect religious minorities, allowing sectarian policies that promote Hindu supremacy to undermine India’s secular foundation. This transformation has seen a surge in derogatory remarks against religious figures, with public figures like BJP leaders Nupur Sharma and Naveen Kumar Jindal making offensive remarks about the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). These actions not only offend millions but also highlight growing intolerance. Furthermore, disturbingly, Muslim women have been commodified and auctioned on apps like ‘Bulli Bai’ and ‘Sulli Deals,’ violating their human dignity and exposing misogyny and Islamophobia.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports systemic discrimination against religious minorities due to discriminatory laws and biased ideologies within institutions. Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at HRW, notes that the promotion of Hindu majoritarianism by the BJP government fuels discrimination and violence against religious minorities. Adding to it, Amnesty International’s 2022 report reveals alarming hate crime trends, with Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and religious minorities facing violence. BJP politicians’ speeches have exacerbated religious tensions by justifying discrimination and advocating hatred and violence against Muslims.
Sexual abuse of minority women is a stark reality, with Hindu priests in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi shockingly advocating violence against Muslim women, including rape and murder. The 2020 Delhi riots serve as a grim reminder of the violence faced by religious minorities, exacerbated by the failure to bring those responsible to justice. Religious practices of minorities are under attack through laws criminalizing inter-faith marriages, property transfers, and beef possession, along with public calls to boycott Muslim businesses, fueling communal tensions. Demolitions of Muslim-owned properties, often without due process, have caused immense suffering. Amnesty International’s investigation reveals that these demolitions frequently bypass legal procedures. Amnesty International itself faced persecution due to its human rights reporting, with authorities launching a smear campaign and freezing its accounts, forcing it to cease operations.
Hindu supremacists’ incendiary rhetoric and activities further divide the nation along religious lines, leading The Guardian to express deep concern about institutional erosion. The rewriting of history textbooks by the National Council of Educational Research and Training, distorting India’s history to align with political agendas, threatens future generations’ worldview. The overrepresentation of Muslims in Indian prisons questions the criminal justice system’s fairness. Citizens for Justice & Peace reported that the majority of threats against minorities target Muslims, with hate crimes occurring in various cities, notably Delhi and Bengaluru. Cases filed under hate speech laws increased by 500% over seven years, with a six-fold rise from 2014 to 2020. Dark chapters in India’s history, such as the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 and subsequent violence, and the Godhra train blast and Gujarat riots, highlight the vulnerability of religious minorities. The persecution of Christians, exemplified by the horrific burning of Australian missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his sons, underscores the brutality faced by religious minorities.
The US-based NGO, Council on Minority Rights in India (CMRI), reported numerous hate crimes, mainly in BJP-ruled states, with law enforcement’s inaction or complicity exacerbating the issue. International human rights organizations, including the International Federation for Human Rights, World Organisation Against Torture, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, International Dalit Solidarity Network, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, have raised concerns about democratic institutions’ crackdown, the use of counterterrorism laws against activists, and discrimination against religious minorities.
Even the United Nations has expressed concerns, with 130 member states making 339 recommendations to address urgent human rights concerns in India. Recommendations include enhancing freedom of expression and assembly, ratifying the UN Convention against Torture, and addressing the misuse of counterterrorism laws. Professor Deepankar Basu’s study reveals a 300% increase in hate crimes against minorities since 2014, coinciding with the BJP’s rise to power. India’s National Bureau of Crime Records data from 2014 to 2016 indicates a high number of cases related to communal violence and promoting enmity between groups. A concerning trend of victimizing Muslims through the bulldozing of their properties under anti-encroachment drives has emerged, notably in Uttar Pradesh.
The harassment and persecution of religious minorities, particularly Muslims, in India demand immediate attention. The erosion of religious freedom, the rise of hate crimes, and authorities’ complicity in perpetuating injustices must be addressed. India’s cherished pluralistic and secular values are at stake, requiring international accountability.