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US ‘religious freedom’ report flags ‘cow vigilantism in India, attacks on Kashmir Hindus & Sikhs’

Released by US State Department, ‘2021 Report on International Religious Freedom’ borrows from media and government accounts to document attacks against religious minorities.

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New Delhi: Attacks, including killings, assaults, intimidation and incidents of “cow vigilantism” targeted against non-Hindus, took place throughout 2021 in India, claims a US State Department report released Thursday.

Titled ‘2021 Report on International Religious Freedom’, the report borrows from media and government accounts to document attacks against religious minorities, but avoids providing any opinion on the same.

“…in India, the world’s largest democracy and home to a great diversity of faiths, we’ve seen rising attacks on people and places of worship,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a press conference Friday, to mark the report’s release.

Speaking at the same conference, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain added: “…in India some officials are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship.”

The report also noted how Hindu and Sikh minorities were allegedly targeted by ‘terrorists’ in Jammu and Kashmir last year.

“Suspected terrorists targeted and killed civilians and migrants from the Hindu and Sikh minorities, including Hindu migrant laborers from Bihar, in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir,” claimed the report. “As of December, alleged terrorists had killed 39 civilians including two schoolteachers from the Hindu and Sikh communities,” it added.

The ‘India section’ of the report also claimed that the Modi government had failed to release data on communal violence for 2021.

“The government did not release data on communal violence during the year. Government data from 2020 reported a large increase in communal violence compared to 2019, largely due to the February 2020 violence and protests following passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA),” the report claimed.

It added that US embassy officials have worked to relay the “importance of interfaith dialogue” with Indian government officials, including members of parliament and others.

“Embassy officials, including the Chargés d’Affaires, also engaged with members of parliament and politicians across diverse political ideologies on the importance of religious freedom and the responsibility of democracies to ensure the rights of religious minorities,” the report adds.

The 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom also touched upon criticism reportedly leveled by NGOs operating in India, against the amendments made to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) in 2020.

Also read: Rashad Hussain — Indian-American & first Muslim nominated as US’ religious rights ambassador

Religious conversion attacks, cow vigilantism

The report stated that 10 of 28 states in India, including Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, have laws restricting religious conversion.

It went on to talk of complaints filed against religious minorities like Christians and Muslims on the basis of religious conversion acts, adding that some NGOs have reported that “the government failed to prevent or stop attacks on religious minorities”.

The report also touched upon “25 states” applying partial to full restrictions on bovine slaughter, making special note of Madhya Pradesh’s laws on cow vigilantism.

“One state, Madhya Pradesh, imposes fines of 25,000 to 50,000 rupees ($340-$670) and prison sentences of six months to three years for ‘cow vigilantism’, i.e., committing violence in the name of protecting cows. This is the only law of its kind in the country,” noted the report.

FCRA amendments ‘constraining civil society’

According to the US State Department report, NGOs in India continue to criticise the 2020 amendments passed to the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) as “constraining civil society”, by reducing the amount of foreign funding that NGOs, including faith-based organisations, could use for administrative purposes and adding “onerous” oversight (oversight if what?) and certification requirements.

“The government continued to say the law strengthened oversight and accountability of foreign NGO funding in the country,” adds the report.

Quoting media reports, the report claimed that FCRA licenses of 5,789 NGOs, including numerous faith-based organisations, lapsed after the government said the organisations did not apply for renewal in time.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Indian Muslims got ‘less religious’ since 2016, shows CSDS study. 44% reported discrimination


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