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India a 'Dangerous' Place for Religious Minorities: South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020

An anti-CAA protester being forcibly removed by police in New Delhi in December 2019 | Image credit: Reuters

An anti-CAA protester being forcibly removed by police in New Delhi in December 2019 | Image credit: Reuters

The South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020 has found that India has become increasingly intolerant of dissenters as well as religious minorities.

The last year ended with nation-wide protests against a series of controversial citizenship amendment laws passed by the government of India in December. And according to experts, the country has since become a "dangerous and violent space for Muslim minorities".

Throughout 2020, India's civil society has repeatedly come under attack from state and central governments for criticizing the administration or state institutions. And now, the South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020 has found that India has become increasingly intolerant of dissenters as well as religious minorities.

The annual report looks at the status of civic space and personal liberties accessible to citizens, especially minorities, living in South Asian countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

While the report notes a detrimental trend in almost each of the country's attitudes toward upholding central tenets of democracy including upholding freedom of speech and secularism, its observations on India shed light on growing levels of intolerance in the country.

Attacks on Minorities

The report finds that India has become a "dangerous and violent space for Muslim minorities".

In December 2019, the government of India passed the Citizenship Amendment Act which allowed the government of India to grant citizenship to migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians, and arrived in India before the end of December 2014. The law was not extended to Muslims from the three countries, all of which are Muslim-dominated.

The government also declared its intentions to implement the National Register of Indian Citizens which would allow the Indian government to identify and deport illegal immigrants. Clubbed with CAA, many critics felt laws had the potential to be used to control and discriminate against India's religious minorities.

The year has seen an increasing number of instances of attacks on minorities. While anti-CAA protests in Delhi's north-east culminated in sectarian violence in February, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic was also laced with widespread Islamophobia after the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi's Nizamuddin become a Covid-19 hotspot.

More recently, implementation and arrests under a new anti-conversion law in Uttar Pradesh has been dubbed as "Islamophobic" by critics for targeting Muslim men for "love jihad".

Attacks of human rights defenders

The report also finds that India’s civil society actors, which include human rights lawyers, activists, protesters, academics, journalists, liberal intelligentsia, have "increasingly been under attack" for speaking out against "government excesses and majoritarianism".

Human rights defenders in India have increasingly come under attack for "protesting discriminatory laws and practices have faced restrictions, violence, criminal defamation, detention and harassment".

The findings come in the wake of increasing numbers of arrests under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, or UAPA. The controversial law, often dubbed as "draconian" by critics, who feel that the Act is being used to muzzle dissent in the nation.

READ: Shaheen Bagh 'Dadi' who Became Face of Anti-CAA Protests Features in BBC's List of 100 Women of Year

The report also notes an increase in media censorship. It notes the temporary bans on two Kerala-based channels for being "'‘critical towards Delhi Police and RSS’" for its coverage of Delhi riots.

In April this year, India dropped two places on a global press freedom index to be ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the annual Reporters Without Borders analysis.

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