The report on religious freedom in various countries prepared by the US State Department and released on Friday gives an accurate picture of the discrimination faced by minorities in India. The annual report to be presented to the American Congress, states that discrimination against minorities, especially Muslims continued last year also in the form of denial of religious freedom, forced religious conversions and violation of special privileges of minority institutions.
The report accuses the Central government, different state governments and the sangh parivar outfits of actions that adversely affect minority lives and their institutional mechanisms. The body named US Commission on International Religious freedom (USCIRF), formed in line with the 1998 International Religious Freedom Law, prepares its report in co-operation with US embassies in different countries and after gathering information from government officials, academicians, mediapersons, NGO's and human rights observers. This year's report was released on 21 June by American State Secretary Mike Pompeo.
In the matter of violation of rights, India has been included in Tier-2 - that calls for close monitoring. The report elaborates on the torture and attacks suffered by Muslim and Christian minorities and Adivasi/Dalit sections in the matter of religious beliefs, rites and practices during 2018. It also highlights the operations of various organizations under the sangh parivar leadership to systematically eliminate Muslims and minoritites and to efface their symbols.
There have been efforts to run educational institutions to impart lessons of intolerance against select sections of the population and to recreate text books and syllabi geared to spread hatred with the backing of authority. The denial of freedom of worship to women in Sabarimala in the name of violation of tradition, also figures in the report. So does the denial of freedom to embrace and propagate a religion of one's choice, with the mention of Dr Hadia Ashokan who was subjected to severe discrimination with a court annulling marriage because of her religious conversion. In Jharkhand, police blocked prayer meetings of Christian families, and even marriage ceremonies with allegations of religious conversions and put the innocent in jail. In Uttar Pradesh, a Dalit who embraced Islam and a family who had been living as Muslims for years were forced to convert back to Hinduism.
Instances of mobs taking law into their hands in the name of ban on cow slaughterand lynching people have been on the rise. During last year alone, 13 people were killed in 31 incidents and 57 injured. Even those who worked in the dairy trade, quite unrelated to cow slaughter, were not spared. In 2018, a third of state governments tightened laws against religious conversions and cow slaughter, in steps patently targeting non-Hindus and lowcaste Hindu minorities. No strict sentences were handed to culprits indulging in mob violence who committed them with allegations of conversions. In UP and Tamil Nadu, intense hate campaigns and persistent assaults were carried out against Muslims and Christians. Numerous NGO's working in missionary and human rights fields were rendered inactive under the label of being against national interest. The report which records an increase in intolerance and crimes against women and children, cites the torture of the girl from Kathua and the collective attacks against young women in Sabarimala.
India has strongly reacted to the US report that dwells in detail on the onslaughts against minorities during last year. The spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs has said that America does not have a right to interfere with the internal affairs of another country, and that India takes pride in its secular values, tolerance and long tradition of pluralism. The BJP is also in the picture against the report which criticises the extremist activities of the sangh parivar outfits. It is significant that the report has come out portraying the serious situation in India regarding religious freedom, when Mike Pompeo is about to visit India.
Even as they decry the US attempt, neither the sangh parivar nor the government is able to muster the courage to ask what moral right the US has in the matter. Can the Modi government persuade the extreme right Trump's US, which maintains close friendship with it, to correct itself? The US report also contains some suggestions for America to do do in order to improve the situation in India. But the question is whether Modi government will take the initiative to reject all of them, to tell the US with an unbending posture that India knows how best to look after its own affairs and at the same time to save India from the misdeeds of the reactionaries who bring shame to India in front of the world.