WASHINGTON: A top American diplomat — Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom — joined US scholars and rights activists this week in condemning efforts to make India Muslims a ‘persecuted minority’.
A US-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) also highlighted this issue in its latest report on India.
“The government adopted laws and policies that discriminated against religious minorities, especially Muslims,” HRW observed. “This, coupled with vilification of Muslims by some BJP leaders and police failure to take action against BJP supporters who commit violence, emboldened Hindu nationalist groups to attack Muslims and government critics with impunity.”
Noam Chomsky noted that while Islamophobia was growing in the West too, the situation was even worse in India
Noam Chomsky, the famed American scholar, noted in a speech on Friday that while Islamophobia was growing in the West too, the situation was even worse in India.
“The pathology of Islamophobia … is taking its most lethal form in India,” Mr Chomsky said in a video message to a webinar organised by the Washington-based Indian American Muslim Council.
“The crimes in Kashmir have a long history,” turning the state into a “brutally occupied territory and its military control in some ways is similar to occupied Palestine,” he added.
Rashad Hussain, an American Muslim of Indian origin who is the Biden administration’s Ambassador [AI1] at large for International Religious Freedom, reminded New Delhi in a tweet he posted on Friday that Indian Muslims too had the right to wear what they liked.
“Religious freedom includes the ability to choose one’s religious attire. The Indian state of Karnataka should not determine permissibility of religious clothing,” he wrote. “Hijab bans in schools violate religious freedom and stigmatise and marginalise women and girls.”
Mr Chomsky, who is also Professor Emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the webinar that Islamophobia in India was turning India’s 250 million Muslims into “a persecuted minority.”
Annapurna Menon, an Indian author and lecturer at the University of Westminster, said the BJP was also preventing the media from reporting what was happening inside the country.
“The situation in Kashmir is dire, where the journalists routinely face police questioning, ban on reporting, suspension of internet services and financial constraints in line with BJP’s recent media policy,” she said.
John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director at HRW, said the greatest threat to the Indian constitution was the promotion of majority religion by the Indian government at the expense of minorities.
“BJP and its affiliates are making hateful remarks against Muslims to gain Hindu votes around elections,” he said.
The HRW 2022 report noted that “Hindu mobs beat up Muslims, often working-class men, with impunity while pro-BJP supporters filed baseless complaints against critics, especially religious minorities.”
The report referred to an incident in October 2021, when over 200 workers of BJP Youth Wing, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal attacked a church in Uttarakhand state, vandalising property and injuring several churchgoers.
The attack came soon after the VHP allegedly threatened to demolish churches in Madhya Pradesh state’s Jhabua district, claiming they were doing illegal religious conversions.
The report noted that Hindu nationalist groups also attacked churches in Chhattisgarh state. Several states enacted anti-conversion laws that have been largely used to target minority communities, particularly Christians, Muslims, Dalits, and Adivasis.
“Allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings persisted with the National Human Rights Commission registering 143 deaths in police custody and 104 alleged extrajudicial killings in the first nine months in 2021,” the report added.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2022