A report by Alliance for Justice & Accountability
India’s diversity and traditional ethos of tolerance has been marred by hostility and hate along caste and religious lines. Millions of Dalit or “lower” castes and Adivasis (the indigenous tribal people) have suffered centuries of systemic repression, exclusion and stigma at the hands of “upper” castes. The same forces that have perpetuated caste discrimination are also spearheading India’s seemingly relentless drift away from secularism and religious pluralism, especially over the course of the last three years. In 2016, a global index of human rights and social and religious freedoms by Pew Research Center placed India among the worst 10 of the world’s 198 countries when judged for “social hostilities.”
The situation of religious minorities in India has seen a steady decline during much of independent India’s history, on account of their cynical manipulation by various political parties, as well as the onslaught of a hateful and divisive ideology that has sought to impose Hindu political and cultural hegemony. The victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India’s national elections in May 2014 brought to power a party that has openly espoused Hindutva, an ultranationalist ideology marked by extreme animus towards Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities. While votaries of Hindutva are actually a minority among Hindus, the BJP rode to power on promises of inclusive development, while also satisfying their core base of Hindu supremacists led by the RSS and its many affiliates.The result, over the last three years, can only be termed as an assault on human rights and religious freedom of minorities that is shocking both in its intensity and its brazenness.
The human rights violations of religious minorities cover a broad spectrum, from illegal detention, torture and fake encounter killings of detainees to open assault against individuals, their sources of livelihood and in many cases their places of worship. Hundreds of Muslims have been arrested on trumped up charges of terrorism, and have spent several years in prison before being finally acquitted. Laws curbing religious conversion, the ban on sale and possession of beef in many states and the curbs placed on NGOs represent the state’s response to forced conversions, the brutal violence of “cow protection” groups and the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders respectively. In all cases, the state has become an enabler of repression, often going to great lengths to defend and normalize the abuse.
While multiple international bodies have called out the RSS and its affiliates for their violence and extremism, Hindutva’s stranglehold on Indian polity continues to tighten. The culture of impunity that has taken hold in India bodes ill for the rule of law, and for India’s continued ascendancy on the world stage. The international community has an obligation to take cognizance of human rights violations in India and to influence the Indian government to take necessary steps to safeguard the rights of Dalits, Adivasis and religious minorities.