India has become a “dangerous and violent space for Muslim minorities” ever since the government introduced amendments to the Citizenship Act last year, said the South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020.
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.
It said that while civic space is under threat the world over, India’s case was unique in terms of the “alarming setbacks” that have “taken place at an extraordinary pace, over the span of a few years”.
The report also criticised the federal government’s intention to create a national register of Indian citizens that it said had the “potential to render Muslims stateless.”
India has seen widespread protests against the Indian government’s controversial 2019 citizenship law which opened an avenue for illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh to get Indian citizenship, but excluded Muslims.
“India’s civil society actors – its human rights lawyers, activists, protesters, academics, journalists, liberal intelligentsia – in fact, all those who have spoken up against government excesses and majoritarianism, have increasingly been under attack,” the report said.
It stated that in India, human right defenders have also reported being “subjected to a campaign of threats and intimidation, by state agencies and ideological groups aligned to them.”
The 349-page report also noted that the “Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, which regulates foreign donations to entities in India, has been further weaponised against progressive and minority NGOs.”
The report emphasised that India had “several instances of censorship of television news channels, with channels that have broadcast views critical of the government being banned.”
It drew attention towards “anti-Muslim riots” in February following the citizenship law protests and the “polarisation” in March that took place during early stages of COVID-19 lockdown when a Tablighi Jamaat congregation in Delhi became a COVID-19 hotspot.
In April this year, India charged the chief of the Muslim seminary with culpable homicide for holding a gathering that was thought to have led to a spike in infections.
The report was prepared by ‘The South Asia Collective’ with financial support from the European Union and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).
Secretary-general of the South Asian Free Media Association, Imtiaz Alam, noted that from the “world’s largest democracy, India, to relatively more democratic Nepal, ethnically divided Sri Lanka, to censuring Pakistan and war-ridden Afghanistan to ‘secularising’ Bangladesh, most countries of the region compete in terms of discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities, majoritarian rule bordering fascism and decimating civil and human rights, suppression of freedom of expression in particular.”
Formed in 2015, the collective is a group of human rights activists and organisations who document the condition of the region’s minorities – religious, linguistic, ethnic, caste and gender – and assesses the status of civic space specifically for minorities in South Asian nations. (Source: Independent UK)