Indian authorities have adopted laws and policies that systematically discriminate against Muslims and stigmatize critics of the government, according to New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Prejudices embedded in the government of the ruling Hindu nationalist BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) have infiltrated independent institutions, such as the police and the courts, the international rights group said on Friday.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch said that this resulted in empowering nationalist groups that threaten, harass, and attack religious minorities with impunity.
“The BJP’s embrace of the Hindu majority at the expense of minorities has seeped into government institutions, undermining equal protection of the law without discrimination,” said Mr. Ganguly.
“The government has not only failed to protect Muslims and other minorities from attacks but is providing political patronage and cover for bigotry.”
Instead of conducting a credible and impartial investigation of the communal violence that killed 53 people, 40 of them Muslim in February 23, 2020 , including into allegations that BJP leaders incited violence and police officials were complicit in attacks, the authorities have targeted activists and protest organizers.
The authorities also have lately responded to another mass protest, this time by farmers, by vilifying minority Sikh protesters and opening investigations into their alleged affiliation with separatist groups.
The February 2020 attacks in Delhi had followed months of peaceful protests by Indians of all faiths against the government’s discriminatory citizenship law and proposed policies.
BJP leaders and supporters attempted to discredit protesters, particularly Muslims, by accusing them of conspiring against national interests.
Similarly, after hundreds of thousands of farmers of various faiths began protesting against the government’s new farm laws in November 2020, senior BJP leaders, their supporters on social media, and pro-government media, began blaming the Sikhs, another religious minority.
They accuse Sikhs of having a “Khalistani” agenda, a reference to a Sikh separatist insurgency in Punjab in the 1980s and 90s.
On February 08, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke in parliament, describing people participating in various peaceful protests as “parasites,” and calling international criticism of increasing authoritarianism in India a “foreign destructive ideology.”
Following violent clashes on January 26 between the police and protesting farmers , the authorities filed baseless criminal cases against journalists, ordered the internet to be shut down at multiple sites, and ordered Twitter to block nearly 1,200 accounts, including of journalists and news organizations, some of which Twitter later restored.
On February 14, the authorities arrested a climate activist, accusing her of sedition and criminal conspiracy for allegedly editing a document providing information on the protests and how to support them on social media, and issued warrants against two others.
The latest arrests come amid increased targeting of activists, academics, and other critics, by the government in recent years. The authorities have especially harassed and prosecuted those protecting the rights of minorities and vulnerable communities.
BJP leaders and affiliated groups have long portrayed minority communities, especially Muslims, as a threat to national security and to the Hindu way of life.
They have raised the bogey of “love jihad,” claiming that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marriages to convert them to Islam, labelled Muslims illegal immigrants or even extremists, and accused them of hurting Hindu sentiment over cow slaughter.
Since Modi’s BJP came to power in 2014, it has taken various legislative and other actions that have legitimized discrimination against religious minorities and enabled violent Hindu nationalism, Human Rights Watch said.
These actions violate domestic law and India’s obligations under international human rights law that prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or religion, and require the governments to provide residents with equal protection of the law.
The Indian government is also obligated to protect religious and other minority populations, and to fully and fairly prosecute those responsible for discrimination and violence against them, Human Rights Watch said.
“The BJP government’s actions have stoked communal hatred, created deep fissures in society, and led to much fear and mistrust of authorities among minority communities,” Ganguly said.
“India’s standing as a secular democracy is at serious risk unless the government rolls back discriminatory laws and policies and ensures justice for abuses against minorities.” (Source: HRW)