India 101

Hindutva’s war of attrition against India’s pluralist traditions is finally threatening the very existence of India as a democratic, secular country where citizens of all faiths are supposed to be equal before the law.

For seven decades, India has been held together by its constitution, which promises equality to all. But Narendra Modi’s BJP is remaking the nation into one where some people count as more Indian than others. In its 72 years as a free country, India has never faced a more serious crisis. Already its institutions – its courts, much of its media, its investigative agencies, its election commission – have been pressured to fall in line with Modi’s policies. More is in the offing: the idea of Hindutva, in its fullest expression, will ultimately involve undoing the constitution and unraveling the fabric of liberal democracy. The ferment gripping India since the passage of the citizenship act – the fever of the protests, the brutality of the police, the viciousness of the politics – has only reflected how existentially high the stakes have become.

SEE: How Hindu supremacists are tearing India apart

The Department of State, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom House and numerous other global organizations have expressed alarm at India’s consistent egregious violations of human rights and religious freedoms.

According to the US Department of State’s 2021 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, India’s significant human rights abuses included “unlawful and arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; arbitrary arrest and detention by government authorities; political prisoners or detainees; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech; government harassment of domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence and discrimination targeting members of minority groups based on religious affiliation”

In 2020, 2021, and 2022, the USCIRF recommended that India be designated as a Country of Particular concern - a label reserved for the world’s most egregious human rights violators.

In an official report, USCIRF stated, “The government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.”

The United Nations Human Rights Commission has on multiple occasions expressed concern regarding India’s crackdown on human rights NGOs and activists using draconian anti-terror laws.

In June 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned India’s anti-minority persecution and said, “India, the world’s largest democracy and home to great diversity of faiths, we have seen a rise in attacks on people and places of worship.”

US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rashad Hussain called out the Indian government officials, who he said are “ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship.”

The Human Rights Watch has said BJP’s leaders and its affiliated Hindu extremist groups have “long stigmatized minority communities as a threat to national security and to the Hindu way of life.”

Amnesty International’s 2021/2022 India summary states, “authorities used repressive laws to silence critics by curbing freedom of expression both offline and online. Human rights defenders, including activists, journalists, students, lawyers and actors, continued to face intimidation and harassment. Courts undermined the right to a fair trial and delayed hearing crucial cases involving violations of human rights. Vigilante cow protection groups attacked minority communities, adversely affecting their livelihoods.” In September 2020, the organization was forced to close its Indian offices after its bank accounts were frozen by the government.

Freedom House changed India’s label from “Free” to “Partly Free” owing to the Hindu nationalist government presiding over “rising violence and discriminatory policies affecting the Muslim population and pursued a crackdown on expressions of dissent by the media, academics, civil society groups, and protesters.”

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 World Press Freedom Index ranked India 150th for press freedom out of 180 recognized countries, a sharp drop since PM Modi came to power in 2014.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said India was the second likeliest place for new mass killings in the world after Pakistan.

In 2022, Genocide Watch, an NGO that monitors countries for signs of impending genocide, placed India at Stage 8 (persecution) of genocide on Dr. Gregory Stanton’s 10 Stages of Genocide.

Hate Crimes Against MuslimsIndia is home to more than 200 million Muslims, who are about 14.2% of India’s 1.3 billion.  Human Rights Watch reports that since Modi’s election, hate crimes against Muslims have risen sharply, ranging from property destruction, disruption of prayers, mosque vandalisms, public beatings, and mob lynchings, which are often filmed and made viral on social media. Muslims are labeled as being “traitors,” “anti-national,” and often targeted both by state and non-state actors when they dissent against the discriminatory policies of the Modi government.

BJP leaders have both explicitly called for Muslims to be shot, their citizenship to be taken away, and mosques to be demolished to make way for temples. Hindu extremists who are influenced by these leaders and the ideology of Hindutva are allowed to attack Muslims with impunity. On social media, anti-Muslim hate and bigotry, and calls for violence are routine: according to Frances Haugen, a former Facebook official turned whistleblower, Facebook in India is flooded with dehumanizing anti-Muslim content, while WhatsApp has been used to organize groups of extremists to commit violent acts against Muslims.

Hate Crimes Against Christians

India is home to 30 million Christians. Since 2014, anti-Christian violence has increased along with Hindutva’s influence. Hindu nationalists use fabricated allegations of forced conversions by Christians to break into churches, vandalize prayer spaces, disrupt congregations, harass and assault worshippers, molest women present, detain faith leaders, and socially boycott Christian communities. Human rights groups have reported more than 700 such attacks on Christians in 2021, and in most cases, authorities often bow to extremist groups rather than protect vulnerable communities.

Dalits, formerly known by the dehumanizing term “untouchables”, hold the lowest social status according to the Hindu caste system. Dalits continue to face extreme human rights abuses because of their caste.  According to National Crime Records Bureau, a federal government agency, a total of 50,291 cases of crimes against Dalits were registered in 2020 only.

For Dalit women, violence is both caste-based and gender-based. In 2020, the gang-rape of a 19-year-old from Hathras, Uttar Pradesh made international headlines for the brutal nature of the victim’s death and the government’s sluggish handling of the case. In 2019 alone, an average of 10 rapes of Dalit women occurred per day.

Mob LynchingsMuslim men have increasingly come under the threat of being publicly beaten, kidnapped, and lynched by Hindu supremacist mobs. Often, these are cases of “cow vigilantism,” during which Hindu extremists seek to punish Muslims under mere suspicion of selling, transporting, or consuming beef. However, Muslims also face the threat of being lynched by Hindu mobs simply for being easy targets. Among the most devastating incidents of mob lynching is the case of 24-year-old Tabrez Ansari, who was kidnapped by Hindu supremacists over a false accusation of bike theft. Tabrez was then tied to a tree, beaten, and forced to chant “Glory to lord Ram,” while his torture was filmed by the Hindu extremists who had kidnapped him. Instead of being taken to a hospital, he was arrested and died of his injuries two days later.

More recent incidents of mob lynchings include the case of Mohammad Saleem (55), a vegetable seller who was hit by a van and then beaten to death by a Hindu mob with iron pipes and wooden sticks; Mohammad Khaleel Alam (35), who was kidnapped by Hindu extremists for eating beef, recorded pleading for his life by his captors, and beaten to death; and Sameer Shahpur (19), who was stabbed to death by a Hindu extremist mob while out riding his motorbike.

In many cases, the lynchings are filmed and circulated on social media, particularly through WhatsApp, leading to the celebration of the murderers by other Hindu supremacists.

Destruction of Mosques & ChurchesAs the BJP and affiliates have grown more powerful, Hindutva groups and government officials have begun to call for other mosques to be destroyed.

From 2020-2022 alone, there have been multiple instances of places of worship being destroyed by Hindu extremist mobs. The New York Times reports that during the 2020 Delhi pogrom, a mosque was set ablaze and three others were vandalized by a Hindu mob chanting “Glory to Lord Ram”. In May 2021, officials in the BJP-controlled state of Uttar Pradesh bulldozed a mosque that had been standing since the era of the Britishers. In December 2021, senior BJP leaders pitched for the demolition of Shahi Idgah Masjid in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. In Gurugram, a few miles away from India’s capital New Delhi, 80 spaces designated for Muslim prayers have been shut down by Hindu extremists in the past three years. Friday congregational prayers are routinely protested and disrupted by Hindu mobs affiliated with RSS. Since May 2022, there has been an increasing push by the Hindu right-wing groups to turn Gyanvapi and Shahi Idgah mosques in Uttar Pradesh state into temples. The courts have been actively aiding this process by admitting frivolous petitions.

Churches and other Christian spaces have also been desecrated throughout India, according to International Christian Concern. In November 2021, a newly-opened Delhi church was vandalized during its first Sunday prayer. Just a day after, extremists broke into a Christian prayer hall in the state of Karnataka. In December 2021, a mob of over 50 extremists attacked a Christian missionary school in Madhya Pradesh, while students were inside.

Hate speech against Muslims has become normalized in all factors of society. In particular, hate speech by high-ranking politicians has skyrocketed by 1130% since Modi won office in 2014, according to a tracker run by NDTV, a mainstream news channel. Of these hate speeches, NDTV reported, 80% were given by the BJP leaders.

In May 2022, Nupur Sharma made offensive and blasphemous comments about Prophet Muhammad during a television broadcast while serving in her capacity as an official spokesperson for the BJP. Sharma was only suspended from the party as a punitive measure after her comments triggered an international backlash. She has not been arrested for triggering unrest and protests across the country.

Other allies of Modi have openly incited hatred and violence against Muslims. Home Minister Amit Shah referred to Muslims as “termites”. In 2020, a number of BJP leaders told their Hindu supporters to “shoot the traitors of the nation,” referring to Muslims who protested the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act. That same slogan was chanted by Hindu extremist mobs who murdered more than 35 Muslims in Delhi in February 2020.

Open calls for a genocide of 200 million Muslims have also become normalized. During a Hindu supremacist event in the Hindu holy city of Haridwar, Uttarakhand, in December 2021, several prominent Hindu clerics directly called for the mass slaughter of Muslims, even going so far as to call it a “cleanse” for India. Hindu attendees were repeatedly advised to buy weapons and be prepared to kill Muslims in order to turn India into a Hindu nation.

Of these clerics, Sadhavi Annapurna Maa, general secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha political party, made perhaps the most direct call for genocide: “If you want to eliminate their population (Muslims), then kill them… Even if 100 of us are ready to kill 20 lakhs of them, then we will be victorious.”

Economic Boycott of MinoritiesHindu nationalist groups have put Muslim livelihoods under attack, often through the physical harassment of Muslim vendors and business owners.  At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Muslim street vendors were targeted and scapegoated for allegedly spreading the virus. In August 2021, a Muslim bangle seller was beaten by a mob for selling his wares in a “Hindu area.” A month later, two Muslim men in Mathura, a temple town in Uttar Pradesh, were beaten by Hindu extremists for selling meat.

In April 2022, Hindutva groups like VHP and Bajrang Dal banned Muslim vendors from putting up stalls at temple fairs in Karnataka state. Other Muslim vendors have been forced to chant Hindu religious slogans to avoid further violence. For Muslims, who are largely self-employed and ​​are the poorest among all religious groups in India, economic discrimination at this scale is set to further disenfranchise millions of people.

Love Jihad- A Conspiracy TheoryA common fear-mongering tactic of the Hindu right is the conspiracy theory of “Love Jihad” - the idea that Muslim men are taking part in an organized effort to increase conversions to Islam by seducing and marrying Hindu women. According to various reports by human rights groups, successive probes have uncovered no evidence of such an agenda, and the central government itself admits that there is no credible definition of Love Jihad. Regardless, BJP leaders and Hindu extremists continue to use the hysteria around Love Jihad to further their own agenda. Many states have passed laws to stop so-called “love jihad”.

Hindu vigilantes have used this law to attack and file false police cases against Muslim men who are in consensual relationships with Hindu women. Muslim men face the threat of being beaten or even lynched over an interfaith relationship. In October 2021, a Muslim man was found beheaded and mutilated on a railway track in Karnataka state. Police reported that he had been murdered by Hindu extremists linked to Rama Sena for being in a relationship with a Hindu woman.

Anti-conversion LawsFollowing in the footsteps of BJP ruled Uttar Pradesh, several other Indian states have also passed anti-conversion laws, including Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand.

These laws have contributed to a huge surge in anti-Christian hate crimes. At least 305 anti-Christian incidents, including mob attacks, harassment, and church destruction, were reported between January and September 2021, according to a fact-finding report released by Christian NGOs. Hindu extremists repeatedly justify these attacks using baseless claims of forced conversions. Despite the lack of evidence, however, the extremists themselves are rarely punished, while Christians are often arrested and churches are shut down.

In October 2021, a mob of around 250 Hindu vigilantes ransacked a church in the BJP-controlled state of Uttarakhand. The mob beat people inside the church with iron rods, including the pastor and some of his family members, Al Jazeera reports. In the same month in Chhattisgarh, a far-right Hindu leader urged a rally of 1,000 people to “arm themselves with axes to teach Christians indulging in conversions a lesson” and “behead them.”

Discriminatory Citizenship Law & National Register of CitizensIn December 2019 India legislated the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) to fast-track citizenship for non-Muslim migrants, raising concerns that it will be clubbed with a National Register for Citizens (NRC) to disenfranchise India’s 200 million Muslims, who at 14.2% of its 1.3 billion are its largest minority. The NRC threatens to cancel the citizenship of those without decades’ old documents. Thanks to the CAA all such people, except the Muslims, would retain citizenship.

In August 2019, the NRC declared half a million Muslims as outsiders in Assam, one of India’s 28 states. They now face statelessness, citizenship loss, and incarceration in detention centers, USCIRF said in its 2021 annual report. The U.S.-based Genocide Watch, an independent watchdog, has raised a genocide alert for Assam.

Anti-Muslim Pogrom in DelhiTo revenge the anti-citizenship protests organized by members of the Muslim community, the Hindu right-wing mobs in February 2020 descended into the Muslim localities with swords, guns, petrol bombs, iron rods, crowbars, and metal pipes.

The anti-Muslim violence that started on February 23, continued for four days and nights resulting in the killing of 53 people, mostly Muslims, injuring 400 and displacing hundreds of families, according to The New York Times.  Shouting “maro shaale mulleko [kill the bastard Muslims] and jai Sri Ram [a Hindu nationalist slogan]”, the Hindu mob burned Muslims “alive in their homes or dragged out into the streets and lynched”, The Guardian reported.

According to Time Magazine, the violence started after a legislator in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, Kapil Mishra, made a provocative speech threatening violence against Muslims. USCIRF while echoing the views of the Delhi Minorities Commission in its annual report said that the violence was “seemingly planned and directed to teach a lesson to a certain community which dared to protest against a discriminatory law.”

Bulldozing of Muslim HomesApril 2022 coincided with the month of Ramadan as well as the Hindu festival of Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti. Throughout India, Hindu extremist groups associated with the BJP led armed rallies through Muslim-majority areas in “celebration” of both festivals, including in Indian capital of New Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Goa, Bihar and West Bengal states. Videos taken by witnesses show Hindu extremist mobs armed with swords, guns and rods, taking out processions through Muslim areas, blasting Islamophobic songs, chanting Hindu religious slogans, arson, vandalizing mosques, and attacking Muslim families, homes, and businesses. Many of these rallies were either carried out in the presence of police or aided by Hindu extremist officers.

Muslims who attempted to defend themselves and their homes were arrested and charged with rioting, while most Hindu extremists who instigated the violence walked free. In Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Delhi, Muslims were doubly victimized by having their homes and shops bulldozed by state authorities. As a result, bulldozing Muslim-owned properties has become a new tool to silence Muslims who attempt to dissent against Hindu nationalism or Hindu supremacist policies of the BJP.

On June 12, 2022, the Uttar Pradesh government illegally demolished activist Afreen Fatima's house in Allahabad after arresting her father Mohammed Javed under trumped-up charges of orchestrating violence during a protest. The bulldozer is now a celebrated symbol of the Hindu supremacist movement and the BJP.

Hijab BanIn December 2021, colleges in Karnataka state began banning students from wearing the hijab to class, despite the fact that the school year had already begun and no such rule had existed prior. Students who refused to comply with the bans were barred entry into their classrooms and faced harassment from the school administration as well as from their peers, resulting in protests across India from Muslims and attempts to push similar bans in other states.

Many of the students who protested publicly were threatened and accused of being part of an anti-India conspiracy by BJP politicians and Hindu supremacist group leaders. A number of minor girls and their families were doxxed by the BJP over Twitter. Students were also harassed by Hindu extremist mobs outside of school, many of which comprised adult men shouting Hindu nationalist slogans at young women.

In March 2022, the Karnataka High Court ruled that the hijab should be banned in schools, forcing tens of thousands of young Muslim women to choose between their education and their clothing. The Supreme Court has not treated the matter with any urgency and has yet to hear the students’ appeal against the ban.

Abuse of Anti-Terror LawsThe Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) is a draconian anti-terror law that allows Indian law enforcement to designate someone as a “terrorist” and detain them without producing any incriminating evidence.  The UAPA was amended in 2019 by Narendra Modi’s party to allow authorities to designate individuals as terrorists. The law has been used to criminalize dissent and curb the right to free speech for minorities.

During the 2019 protests against the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act, several Muslim activists including  Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Khalid Saifi, and Safoora Zargar, were arrested for sedition and “promoting enmity.” Khalid, Imam, and Saifi and hundreds of other Muslims are still languishing behind the bars as prisoners of conscience.

84-year-old Jesuit priest and activist Stan Swamy was also arrested under the UAPA for allegedly stoking inter-caste conflict. While in prison, he was denied bail several times, despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He later contracted Covid-19 and died. After his death in July 2021, the Indian government was accused by international human rights bodies of judicial murder for denying Swamy basic healthcare.

Attacks on Journalists & Media Freedom   Modi’s India is one of the most dangerous places for journalists. Over the last eight years, the Indian government has intensified its crackdown on journalists and media houses for not toeing the Hindu nationalist line. Journalists are routinely threatened, intimidated, arrested, booked—and silenced through gag orders and charges concocted by the state. The government also uses federal agencies like Income Tax Department and Enforcement Directorate to crack down on media houses that are critical of the state policies. Journalist Siddique Kappan has been in prison since October 2020 and charged under sedition law and draconian anti-terror law UAPA for trying to report on gang rape and murder of a Dalit girl in Uttar Pradesh state.  Aasif Sultan, a journalist from Kashmir, has been in jail for more than three years for writing a story. Washington Post columnist Rana Ayubb has been regularly hounded by the Hindu nationalists and the BJP government for being vocal against the persecution of minorities. In November 2021, two journalists, Samriddhi K. Sakunia and Swarna Jha were arrested for reporting and documenting anti-Muslim violence in the Indian state of Tripura, where Hindu mobs attacked mosques and properties owned by Muslims, according to The New York Times. In February 2022, Kashmiri journalist Fahad Shah was arrested for his reporting and jailed under the draconian anti-terror law UAPA. In June 2022, the Indian authorities arrested journalist and fact-checker Mohammed Zubair over trumped-up charges of insulting Hindu religious beliefs. India ranked 150 out of 180 countries in the 2022 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders.

Crackdown on Civil SocietyIndian government regularly harasses, detains, and prosecutes activists, nongovernmental organizations, and civil society members who are critical of its policies, according to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2021. The government repeatedly denounces human rights and environmental activism as “anti-national”.

Amnesty International said the government uses both UAPA and FCRA, India’s primary anti-terror and foreign funding laws to silence the dissent from civil society, In 2018, at least 16 prominent human rights defenders including Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, and professors Anand Teltumbde, Shoma Sen, and Hany Babu were booked under UAPA in a single case under trumped-up accusations of having links with Maoist organizations, based on evidence which The Washington Post investigation has dubbed as “fabricated”. In 2020, in response to the nationwide anti-citizenship law protests, the Delhi Police, which reports directly to India’s Home Minister Amit Shah filed nearly 700 cases and arrested nearly 2000 people, mostly student leaders, anti-Citizenship law activists, and human rights defenders. Most of them are currently languishing behind the bars.

In June 2022, human rights activist human rights defenders Teesta Setalvad and R. B. Sreekumar, who played a pivotal in bringing justice to the victims of the pogrom against Muslims in 2002 in Gujarat were arrested by the police, a day after the Supreme Court dismissed a petition that asked for opening an investigation into PM Modi’s complicity in riots.

FCRA, the foreign funding law is another tool being used to choke civil society. Since 2014, several organizations have been targeted under the law, including Amnesty International, Greenpeace India, Lawyers Collective, Centre for Promotion of Social Concerns and thousands of other non-profits across India. In September 2020, Amnesty was forced to shut its offices in India as a result of the continuous witchhunt by the BJP government.

Human Rights Abuses in KashmirSince August 2019, when the Indian government rescinded Kashmir’s special status, the gross human rights abuses by the security forces are witnessing a sharp upward trend, continuing the saga of harassment, extrajudicial detentions, killings, enforced disappearances, that the region’s civilian population has been enduring since the onset of the military crackdown in 1989.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Indian authorities continue to enforce restrictions on movement including routine harassment and ill-treatment at checkpoints, arbitrary detention, torture, and extrajudicial killings. Journalists and publishers are summoned day in and day out for their reporting. Internet services are blocked at will. Over the last more than 2 years, the internet was shutdown for nearly 18 months- the longest-ever shutdown in any democracy.

The Indian authorities have also clamped down on media freedom and are using the abusive counterterrorism law against activists, journalists, peaceful protestors, and critics of the government, Amnesty International said in a report.

On November 22, 2021, India’s federal counterterrorism agency arrested prominent Kashmiri human rights activist Khurram Parvez under trumped-up terror charges, apparently for his work documenting cases of enforced disappearances and investigating unmarked graves in the region.