India, the world’s second most populist country with more than 1.3 billion people, is religiously pluralistic and multi-ethnic democracy who’s Constitution ensures its citizens the freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion. Despite India being the cradle of four world religions namely- Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism ranks as the worst when placed among the most populous countries when it comes to religious freedom. According to a report published by the Pew Research Centre in 2017, India has ranked the fourth highest country in terms of social hostilities against religion.
In India, religious intolerance and religious atrocities against the minorities is far-reaching and manifested by the laws. In 2017, a ban on the sale and purchase of cattle (cows) for slaughter was imposed by the Ministry of Environment of the Government of India led by Bharatiya Janata Party. The anti-cow slaughter laws are primarily being used as a weapon to discriminate against the religious minorities like Dalits, Muslims and Christians. According to USCIRF Report in the name of ‘cow protection’ the Hindu extremist groups had lynched and murdered about 10 people in 2017. Besides this, groups of mobs had begun campaigns of harassment and oppression against people working in the dairy industry which did not even engage in slaughtering of cows.
Many video footages in the public domain give evidence of extreme violence and communal hatred against those minorities who consume beef. One video filmed in 2016 before the anti-cow slaughter laws were imposed, showed a gang in the city of Mandsaur kicking two Muslim women over allegations of beef possession. They were surrounded by a shouting mob and policemen feebly attempting to control the crowd. Another instance in Gujarat happened where, members a Dalit family involved in leather trading were stripped half-naked, tied to a car, dragged for about a kilometre and then beaten with iron rods and sticks. In the same year, in another video, two beef transporters in the city of Faridabad were seen being forced to eat cow dung.[i] Authorities have many failed to prosecute perpetrators of ‘cow vigilante’ attacks, which included killings, mob violence, and intimidation.[ii]
Anti-conversion laws are in force in 8 out of 29 Indian states- Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand.The Anti-conversion laws in India openly breaches the fundamental right of its citizens to freely practice and propagate their respective religion. These laws not only snatch away the right to practice one’s faith freely, as guaranteed under the International Law but also infringes the special protection of the rights of the minorities enshrined in Article 27 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Anti-conversion laws in India are being deliberately used against the minorities who are involved in proselytization. According to USCIRF Report[iii], in June 2017, a Catholic nun along with 4 tribal women were detained by the police on mere suspicion of induced conversion. After one month of this incident, in Ludhiana, Punjab Sultan Masih, the pastor of the Temple of God Church, was murdered brutally in public on a suspicion of being engaged in conversion of others. In a protest against this violence Christians all over Ludhiana raised their voices.
Several instances across India have proven the existence of communal hatred and religious intolerance among the people.
For example, in 2019 a video of a mob violently attacking a Muslim boy got spread like a wildfire on the internet. The video-clipping showed a Hindu mob in Jharkhand furiously and mercilessly attacking a 24 years old Muslim boy named Tabrez Ansari and coercing him to chant Hindu slogans “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman”. The Muslim boy was accused of stealing a motorcycle but its repercussions were so deadly that he lost his life. The post mortem report revealed that the death was caused due to grievous skull injury. The most shocking part in this incident was, initially the police had safeguarded the perpetrators by wrongly stating that the death was caused due to cardiac arrest. Later two policemen were suspended by the Jharkhand Government for not reporting the gravity of a case of religious mob lynching to the higher authority.[iv]
On December 12 2019, the citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed by the parliament which amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 to provide an accelerated path to Indian Citizenship to Hindus, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsis and Christian migrants from neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who had entered India on or before 31st December 2014. But, people belonging to other religions and faith like the Muslims, Jews and others from these three countries were excluded from CAA. CAA was the first ever legislation to use religion as a criteria for getting citizenship in a country which is secular. It was highly criticized by both domestic and International media, other political organisations and religious groups. The protests against this unconstitutional legislation out broke in different states of India which soon reached to university campuses of different cities. Numerous reports give evidence of excessive amount of violence and police brutality against the protestors, primarily the Muslim university students. In Jamia Millia University in New Delhi, in order to stop the protests by Muslim students the police had made use of tear gas and recklessly attacked the protestors with batons.
The religious tolerance among people has stooped down so much recently that a riot broke out in Bengaluru on August, 2020 for protesting against a Facebook post of a Hindu which was derogatory to the Muslim religion. The minority mob got so violent they pelted stones at local police stations and residence of political leader. This rampage took away 3 lives and injured 60 police personnel.[v]
In order to reconcile religious peace and harmony, the government must ensure that every citizen can enjoy their fundamental right to freedom of religion. To combat the ongoing communal hatred in the country-
- The government must repeal the Anti-conversion laws to give full effect to India’s International law obligations.
- New set of laws must be devised to restrict the political parties from using religion to fulfil their political agenda.
- Educational institutions should inculcate secular values and the sense of brotherhood among the students who are the future of the nation.
- The Mass media which includes newspapers, news channels, and radio channels must use their power to influence people in a constructive manner. They should conduct an awareness movement against religious intolerance so that public opinion is created against communalism.
Also, renowned public figures must understand that their one demagogic statement can incite the mass to indulge in communalism. Any such hate-monger must be severely punished to set out a strong example of the consequence of farming communal passions amongst the masses.
Article By:- Sneha Sen (BBA LLB 3rd year), New Law College, Bharti Vidyapeeth University.