Religious minorities, Dalits face discrimination in India, says US body

Ask the US to put human rights at the heart of trade & diplomatic interactions with India

The religious minority communities and Dalits face discrimination and persecution in India where hate crimes, social boycotts and forced conversion have escalated dramatically since 2014, an independent bipartisan American body has claimed, asking the US to put human rights at the heart of trade and diplomatic interactions with India.

"Under Congress Party and BJP-led governments, religious minority communities and Dalits, both have faced discrimination and persecution due to a combination of overly broad or ill-defined laws, an inefficient criminal justice system, and a lack of jurisprudential consistency," said a report released by US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) that monitors violation of religious freedom abroad.

"In particular, since 2014, hate crimes, social boycotts, assaults, and forced conversion have escalated dramatically," says the report 'Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India' which has been authored by Iqtidat Karamat Cheema, who is director for Institute for Leadership and Community Development, in Birmingham, England.

The report recommends the US government to put religious freedom and human rights at the heart of all trade, aid, and diplomatic interactions with India.

"India is a religiously diverse and democratic society with a constitution that provides legal equality for its citizens irrespective of their religion and prohibits religion-based discrimination," said USCIRF chair Thomas J Reese.

"However, the reality is far different. In fact, India's pluralistic tradition faces serious challenges in a number of its states," he said.

"During the past few years, religious tolerance has deteriorated and religious freedom violations have increased in some areas of India. To reverse this negative trajectory, the Indian and state governments must align their laws with both the country's constitutional commitments and international human rights standards," Reese said.

Running into 22 pages, the report alleges that there are constitutional provisions and state and national laws in India that do not comply with international standards of freedom of religion or belief, including Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The report alleges that following the victory of BJP in May 2014 elections, concerns have been mounting about the fate of religious minorities in India.

"As feared by many faith communities across India, threats, hate crimes, social boycotts, desecrations of places of worship, assaults, and forced conversions led by radical Hindu nationalist movements have escalated dramatically under the BJP-led government," the author said.

"India faces serious challenges to both its pluralistic traditions and its religious minorities. Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Jains generally are fearful of what the future portends. Moreover, Hindus classified as Schedule Castes or Tribes, commonly referred to as Dalits, also are increasingly being attacked and harassed," the report said.

The report alleges that the Indian government at both the national and state levels-often ignores its constitutional commitments to protect the rights of religious minorities.

"National and state laws are used to violate the religious freedom of minority communities; however, very little is known about the laws," it said.

The report said that violence against religious minorities, discrimination, forced conversions, and environments with increased instances of harassment and intimidation of religious minorities are not new phenomena in India, as they have occurred under both the Congress Party and BJP governments.

It recommends the US to urge the Indian government to push states that have adopted anti-conversion laws to repeal or amend them to conform to international norms.

The US is also recommended to urge India to immediately lift its sanctions against nongovernmental organisations working for the welfare of the minorities in India.

"Identify Hindutva groups that raise funds from US citizens and support hate campaigns in India. Such groups should be banned from operating in the US if they are found to spread hatred against religious minorities in India," is another set of recommendation for the US Government.

The report urges India to reform the anti-conversion laws and appreciate that both conversion and reconversion by use of force, fraud, or allurement are equally bad and infringe upon a person's freedom of conscience and implement the recommendations of the Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (2007).

It urges India not to impose Hindu personal status laws on Sikh, Buddhist, and Jain communities, but instead provide them with a provision of personal status laws as per their distinct religious beliefs and practices.

"Operationalise the term 'minority' in its federal laws and comply with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious, and Linguistic Minorities," the report recommends.

"Drop Explanation II in Article 25 of its constitution and recognise Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism as distinct religions with their own separate religious identities. The government of India also should adopt the recommendations of the Venkatachaliah Commission (2000-2002)," it said.