Amnesty International activists stage a protest in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad in November 2017 against the killings of Rohingya Muslims. (Photo by IANS)
India's religious minority groups, particularly Muslims, face increasing demonization by hard-line Hindu groups, pro-government media and state officials, says the annual report of rights watchdog Amnesty International.
India's coalition government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is using laws to suppress freedom of expression, the report released on Feb. 22 in New Delhi said.
"At least 10 Muslim men were lynched and many injured by vigilante cow protection groups, many of which seemed to operate with the support" of the BJP, it added. Some arrests were made but no convictions were reported.
The report also highlighted that India's indigenous communities continue to suffer displacement because of industrial projects, while hate crimes against Dalits remain widespread.
More than 6,500 crimes were committed against indigenous people in 2016 and their communities continued to face displacement as the government acquired land for projects such as mining, the report said.
In September 2017, activists protested Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat state, saying it had displaced some 40,000 families without paying adequate reparation.
"Authorities were openly critical of human rights defenders and organizations, contributing to a climate of hostility against them," the report said.
The report titled "The State of the World's Human Rights 2017-18" covers 159 countries and delivers a comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights in the world today.
Biraj Patnaik, Amnesty International's South Asia director, told reporters that South Asia in 2017 remained one of the "most dangerous regions" to be a member of a religious minority.
"Muslims in India and Sri Lanka, Shias in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Hindus in Bangladesh have all come under attack over the past year. In each case, the governments have either failed to protect them, been indifferent to their fate or even encouraged a climate of hostility," Patnaik said.
The 409-page report also highlighted the issue of Rohingya immigrants living in India.
It noted that in September 2017 India's government said that all Rohingya in India were "illegal immigrants" and claimed to have evidence that some Rohingya had ties to terrorist organizations. In October, in response to a petition filed by two Rohingya refugees, the Supreme Court temporarily deferred expulsions.
In contrast, India's government in September said it would grant citizenship to about 100,000 Chakma, predominantly Buddhists, and Hindu Hajong refugees who had fled to India from Bangladesh in the 1960s, the report claimed.
The report was critical of security measures in Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state bordering Pakistan, where it said rights violations continue with impunity.
"Security forces continued to use inherently inaccurate pellet-firing shotguns during protests [in Kashmir], blinding and injuring several people. Authorities frequently shut down internet services, citing public order concerns," the report said.
The Indian-administered area of Kashmir has suffered increased violence since 1989 after militants stepped up armed action to free the region from India. Rights groups say an estimated 100,000 people have been killed, although official records say about 47,000 people have perished.
Even by official records, an average of 1,560 people have been killed each year over the last 30 years in Kashmir, compared with the annual average of 1,200 killed in the Israeli-Palestine conflict since 1920.
The growing intolerance toward minority groups in India has been raised time and again by rights groups. The country secured 42th place in the 2017 Global Democracy Index, 10 places below its 2016 ranking.
A major reason for the poor rating was the strengthening of nationalist Hindu forces in an otherwise secular country, leading to a rise in vigilantism and violence against minority communities, particularly Muslims.
Even government records, presented Feb. 6 in parliament, show increased sectarian violence. In 2017, 111 persons were killed and at least 2,384 injured in 822 communal clashes reported across the country.
In 2016, 86 persons were killed and 2,321 injured in 703 incidents. In 2015, there were 751 incidents.