ucanews.com reporter, New DelhiUpdated: May 02, 2019 10:06 AM GMT
Indian activists of the hard-line Hindu nationalist organization Vishva Hindu Parishad take part in a rally in November 2018 to call for the construction of a grand temple of Lord Rama in Ayodhya. The site has been a frequent flashpoint between majority Hindus and minority Muslims in the country. (Photo by Sanjay Kanojia/AFP)
A U.S. report has painted a grim picture of declining religious freedom in India and accused the country’s government of encouraging violence against Christians and Muslims.
The latest report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), made public on April 29, retained India in the Tier 2 category with 11 other nations including Afghanistan and Iraq.
Those in Tier 2 are countries with at least one of the elements of the "systematic, ongoing and egregious" standard in criteria the commission uses to gauge violations of religious freedom.
Religious freedom continued a downward trend in India in 2018, according to the report. It says the country has a long history of secularism, although 80 percent of its 1.2 billion people follow Hinduism.
“Yet, this history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives including, at times, the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities. Both public and private actors have engaged in this campaign,” says the report.
Approximately one third of India’s 29 state governments increasingly enforce anti-conversion or anti-cow slaughter laws discriminatorily against non-Hindus and Dalits alike, the report said.
“Mob violence was also carried out against Christians under accusations of forced or induced religious conversion. In cases involving mobs killing an individual based on false accusations of cow slaughter or forced conversion, police investigations and prosecutions often were not adequately pursued,” the report added.
Parveen Mishra, a right activist based in New Delhi, said India is losing its image of being a secular and tolerant nation for people of all faiths at a frantic pace.
“Gone are the days when non-Hindus used to feel safe and secure in the country. The poison of communalism has sprouted its roots too deep to be eradicated,” Mishra said.
Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed office in India after his pro-Hindu Bharitaya Janata Party (BJP) swept to victory in the 2014 polls, religious hate crimes have increased sharply.
According to data from Hate Crime Watch, 90 percent of religious hate crimes since 2009 have occurred since Modi led the BJP to power.
Federal Home Ministry data show that between 2014 and 2017 India witnessed nearly 3,000 communal incidents, claiming 400 lives and injuring nearly 9,000.
Kamil Ahmad, a New Delhi-based businessman, said the situation is becoming more perturbing for ordinary non-Hindus with each passing day.
“You will not believe it but I am teaching my son Hindu hymns so that if a Hindu mob grabs him, he could save himself by declaring his faith as Hindu,” Ahmad said.
He said the BJP and hard-line groups that support it are “in a mad rush” to turn India into a nation of Hindus where followers of other religions will be treated as second-class citizens.
Michael Williams, an educationist based in New Delhi, said it is high time for Muslims and Christians to be united and face divisive forces.
“The country is going through very trying circumstances. It is high time for minority groups to stand with each other. There should be joint resistance to safeguard the country’s secular and harmonious character,” he said.
India’s 966 million Hindus form 80 percent of its 1.2 billion people, making the 172 million Muslims the largest religious minority group, followed by 28 million Christians.