US religious freedom report notes violence against Indian minorities

We see a concerning increase in anti-conversion laws, hate speech, demolitions of homes and places of worship for minority communities, says report.

WASHINGTON (Reuters): The U.S. State Department’s 2023 religious freedom report on India, opens new tab noted violent attacks on minority groups, especially Muslims and Christians, including killings, assaults and vandalism of houses of worship.

The report on international religious freedom released on Wednesday said that in 2023, senior U.S. officials continued to “raise concerns about religious freedom issues” with their Indian counterparts.

Human rights experts say India has seen a rise in attacks on minorities under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who recently won a third term, and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“In India, we see a concerning increase in anti-conversion laws, hate speech, demolitions of homes and places of worship for members of minority faith communities,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, opens new tab when the report was released, in a rare direct rebuke of India.

Criticism of India by the U.S. is usually restrained due to close economic ties and New Delhi’s importance for Washington to counter China, political analysts say.

The U.S. report listed dozens of incidents. Among them was a fatal shooting of a security official and three Muslims on a train near Mumbai by a suspect who was a railway security official. A probe by Indian authorities into that case is ongoing and the suspect was in jail, according to the Indian Express newspaper.

The report cited examples of attacks against Muslims based on allegations that Muslim men were participating in the slaughter of cows or beef trading.

The Indian embassy in Washington had no immediate comment. The Indian government denies discriminating against minorities, and says its welfare policies – like food subsidy schemes and electrification drives – aim to benefit all Indians.

Rights advocates contest that and point to anti-Muslim hate speeches, opens new tab, the revoking, opens new tab of Muslim-majority Kashmir’s special status, a citizenship law, opens new tab that the U.N. calls “fundamentally discriminatory” and the demolition of Muslim properties, opens new tab in the name of removing illegal construction.

The State Department report also cited violence in the northeastern state of Manipur that started in May last year between minority, mostly Christian, Kuki and majority, mostly Hindu, Meitei ethnic groups.

Hindu and Christian places of worship were destroyed in Manipur. Citing a local tribal leaders’ forum, the report said over 250 churches were burnt down, more than 200 people were killed and over 60,000 were displaced.

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