Attacks on minorities in India ‘occurred throughout’ 2021, US state department report says

‘In India, the world’s largest democracy, and home to a great diversity of faiths, we’ve seen rising attacks on people and places of worship’

Blinken says attacks are rising on people in places of worship in India

The US State Department’s annual report on international religious freedom has said religious minorities in India faced intimidation throughout 2021.

“Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year. These included incidents of ‘cow vigilantism’ against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef,” the report said.

It was released by secretary of state Antony Blinken at the Foggy Bottom, Washington DC, headquarters of the State Department on Thursday.

Mr Blinken called out India for “rising attacks” on minorities and cited New Delhi as an example while speaking about how religious freedoms and the rights of religious minorities are under threat around the world.

“In India, the world’s largest democracy, and home to a great diversity of faiths, we’ve seen rising attacks on people and places of worship,” Mr Blinken said.

In a sharp rebuke to the state department’s report, India’s foreign ministry spokesperson alleged that the assessment was “biased” and took note of hate crimes and gun violence in the US.

“It is unfortunate that vote bank politics is being practised in international relations. We would urge that assessments based on motivated inputs and biased views be avoided,” Arindam Bagchi said at a press conference on Thursday.

“As a naturally pluralistic society, India values religious freedom and human rights. In our discussions with the US, we have regularly highlighted issues of concern there, including racially and ethnically motivated attacks, hate crimes and gun violence.”

This is the second time in less than two months that the US has raised concerns about religious and human rights violations in India.

In April, following a high-level meeting between the Indian and US defence and foreign ministries in New Delhi, Mr Blinken said the US was “monitoring some recent concerning developments in India, including a rise in human rights abuses by some government, police, and prison officials”.

He was sharing the stage with Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and defence minister Rajnath Singh. Mr Jaishankar said the state of human rights in India had not been raised at the dialogue, and had responded to Mr Blinken’s criticism by saying India too has concerns about human rights in the US.

The latest report released on Thursday took note of anti-conversion laws, civillian killings in Jammu and Kashmir by terrorists, and lynchings of Muslims.

“Police arrested non-Hindus for making comments in the media or on social media that were considered offensive to Hindus or Hinduism,” the report noted.

It stated that the targetted killings of Hindus and Sikhs, minorities in India’s Muslim-majority region of restive Jammu and Kashmir, by suspected terrorists has caused extensive fear in these communities, leading to an exodus of migrants.

The report also noted that Muslims were allegedly lynched in the states of Tripura, Rajasthan, and Jammu and Kashmir last year.

Members of Kashmiri political party JK Awami Aawaz Party hold placards as they take part in a protest against minority killings in Srinagar on 2 June

It took note of statements by Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of right-wing organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is the ideological mentor of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Mr Bhagwat had said in July that Muslims should not be afraid that Islam is in danger in India as Hindus and Muslims “had the same DNA and should not be differentiated by religion”.

“There can never be any dominance of either Hindus or Muslims; there can only be the dominance of Indians,” Mr Bhagwat was quoted as saying. He had also denounced the killing of Muslims for cow slaughter, saying the act was against teachings of Hinduism.

Last April, a report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended for the third year in a row that the US classify India as a “country of particular concern (CPC)”.

This category for countries with the worst record on religious freedom includes China, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Tajikistan.

The State Department, which releases its CPC list towards the end of the calendar year, however, is not bound by USCIRF recommendations and has not, in the last three years, categorised India as a CPC.

Rashad Hussain, who leads the US state department’s efforts to monitor religious freedom around the world and compiled the report, accused some Indian officials of “ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship”.

He said the US would continue to raise these issues regularly with Indian counterparts despite their sensitivity.

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