At an event at a think-tank in Washington DC during his trip to the United States, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was questioned on the status of minorities in India under the Narendra Modi government. He replied, “What is the test really of fair and good governance or of the balance of a society? It would be whether in terms of the amenities, the benefits, the access, the rights, do you discriminate or not and in every society in the world, at some point, there’s been some discrimination on some basis.”
He told the questioner, “I defy you to show me discrimination. In fact, the more digital we have become, the more faceless the governance has become…Actually, it’s become fairer,” said India’s External Affairs Minister trying to dodge the question on treatment of religious minorities in India.
It is a particularly unfortunate moment for S. Jaishankar to parrot lines about material “benefits” as a response to serious questions on the status of minorities in India. Just a few facts and analyses from this month would fly in the face of claims made by Jaishankar. India’s democratic backsliding, starkly visible across several global indices, has the diminishing status of minorities as a very important component of the regression.
‘Massive, systematic and dangerous’ rights situation in India: UN
The UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Fernand de Varennes speaking in Washington DC at an open hearing on September 20, used strong words to characterise the “deteriorating” rights situation in India as “massive, systematic and dangerous”.
In his opening remarks at a hearing on policy options for advancing religious freedom in India, organised by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in Washington DC on September 20, 2023, De Varennes said that “India risks becoming one of the world’s main generators of instability, atrocities and violence, because of the massive scale and gravity of the violations and abuses targeting mainly religious and other minorities such as Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and others. It is not just individual or local, it is systematic and a reflection of religious nationalism.”
Also looking at Tajikistan, Varennes went out and compared how the status there “pales in comparison” if you look at India. He spoke of a steady and alarming erosion of fundamental rights, particularly for religious and other minorities from the review of communications from 2011 to now: By 2022, almost all of them involve grave allegations of denial of fundamental rights, particularly targeting religious minorities. From May 12, 2020 to May 23, 2023, [they issued] around 46 communications and an estimated 20 press releases.” He cited a study that “noted a 786% increase in hate crimes against minorities between 2014 and 2018”.
Manipur: 254 churches destroyed
The state of Manipur has been witness, as per the state police itself, to the destruction of 254 churches in the uncontrollable violence rocking the state since May 3. At least 180 persons are dead. There was a viral video of a mob chasing after three Kuki-Zo women, after having disrobed them. Police FIRs spoke of sexual violence. Just today, the Supreme Court-appointed committee formed to look into the humanitarian aspects of the ethnic violence in Manipur asked the government in the state to “immediately identify” all religious buildings in the state and protect them from damage and encroachment. The government itself has termed the violence as “communal violence”, according to reports.
Attacks on Christians up by four times
Between 2011 and 2022, attacks against Christians went up by four times.
Data put out by the United Christian Forum (UCF) – a civil society organisation focused on Christian issues – released a stunning statistic on September 7: there have been 525 attacks against Christians in India just in the first eight months of 2023. If this trend were to continue, this would prove to be one of the most violent and difficult years the Christian community in India has ever seen, breaking the recent record set by 2022, and 2021 before that.
BJP leader abuses Muslim MP in parliament
BJP MP from South Delhi, Ramesh Bidhuri in the new building for Parliament, hurled Islamophobic slurs and abuses at Muslim MP Danish Ali of the BSP, specifically targeting him for his identity as a Muslim, calling him ‘pimp’, ‘terrorist’, ‘militant’ and also used the words mullahand katwa – a pejorative word for a Muslim who is circumcised to imply that he has been castrated. Two former ministers in Modi’s cabinet, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Harshvardhan can be seen laughing behind him. After the outburst, Bidhuri has not been officially as much as reprimanded by his party, instead has been promoted to a crucial position of holding charge of Tonk in Rajasthan, seen as a Muslim-dominant area of the state.
‘Hate and indoctrination embedded in BJP campaign’
The Washington Post in a series of stories about hate and indoctrination being embedded in the electoral campaign of the BJP, just yesterday has detailed how BJP staffers, consultants and supporters created “incendiary posts designed to go viral on WhatsApp” during the campaign for the Karnataka assembly elections. These posts often claimed that the “Muslim minority, abetted by the secular and liberal Congress party, abused and murdered members of the Hindu majority” and that “justice and security could be secured only through a vote for the BJP”.
The Washington Post says it was granted “rare access to the [BJP’s] vast messaging machinery and the activists who run it” during the election campaign in the southern state, which revealed how BJP staffers and allies “conceive and craft posts aimed at exploiting the fears of India’s Hindu majority, and detailed how they had assembled a sprawling apparatus of 150,000 social media workers to propagate this content across a vast network of WhatsApp groups”.
‘Country of particular concern’
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government agency created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. USCIRF monitors the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad; makes policy recommendations to the US government, urged US President Jo Biden “to address concerning issues of religious freedom and other related human rights in India during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming state visit. For the past several years, the Indian government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has supported discriminatory national and state-level policies that severely hinder and restrict the religious freedom of minority groups,” it said in June 2023.
USCIRF has recommended the U.S. Department of State designate India as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, each year since 2020, for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, and again most recently in its 2023 Annual Report. USCIRF also published an issue update on India’s state-level anti-conversion laws, providing further context on India’s use of these laws to target religious minorities.
As Pratik Sinha, founder of Alt News, noted, “This is a templated answer that BJP has chosen to respond to all questions concerning minorities – that social welfare is extended to everyone. The whole party apparatus of BJP, from top to bottom, is involved in dehumanising Muslims in India through disinformation and hate speech, and you can’t simply get away by claiming that a poor Muslim also gets access to ration.”
The facts defy Jaishankar’s claim.