EU-INDIA: Religious freedom in the context of a Free Trade Agreement

HRWF (21.09.2023) – On 19 September, the DROI committee held an exchange of views on the human rights dimension of the negotiations on an EU-India Free Trade Agreement. In preparation, the London Story Foundation has compiled an overview of evidence on religious freedom concerns associated with the India Free Trade Agreement, with accompanying recommendations. 

Situation of religious minorities

  1. India is witnessing a steep marginalisation and curtailment of rights of its religious minorities through laws, while political leaders actively incite further violence against minorities by engaging in hate speech.68 In 2021, a panel of independent experts under the guidance of former International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda found credible evidence of crimes against humanity committed in India against its Muslim minorities.69 The Early Warning Project in 2023 ranks India 8th highest risk of concern for mass atrocities against religious minorities among 162 countries.70


  1. In ongoing violence in Manipur, North-East India, over 120 people have lost their lives.71 This armed conflict started in May 2023 and has strong religious elements, with at least 250 churches being destroyed.72 On September 4, UN human rights experts issued a press release expressing their alarm over the scale of human rights violations involved in the Manipur violence and at the “inadequate humanitarian response” in its wake.73 They said the situation was “grave” and pointed out that it has involved alleged acts of “sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, home destruction, forced displacement, torture and ill-treatment”.74
  2. There is evidence of widespread violence in India against people on grounds of protected characteristics, especially religion. Such targeted violence disproportionately affects religious minorities. Of over 19014 verified victims of communal violence, physical assaults, and lynching since 2017 (status: August 2022), the majority (86.7%) are Muslims.75 Violence against Christians also rose by 81% between 2020 and 2021.76 More than 2000 Christians were attacked and injured in the first nine months of 2021.77 Additionally, Hindu supremacist groups have called for economic boycotts of Muslim vendors.78

Identity of victims: Muslims: 16 477 – Christians: 1653 – Hindus: 183 – Other: 701. Source: Foundation The London Story (2022)

  1. India is systematically excluding its minority population in violation of religious freedoms enshrined in the ICCPR. The Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 (CAA) allows the government to fast-track asylum claims of irregular immigrants from specific communities.79 The OHCHR called the CAA “fundamentally discriminatory in nature”, as it adds a religious criterion to citizenship and specifically excludes Muslims.80 Home Minister Amit Shah announced that a National Registry of Citizens (NRC) would be conducted for the whole of India.81 In Assam, the NRC has already rendered 1.9 million citizens stateless.82 The NRC coupled with the CAA risks mass statelessness of Muslims and other marginalised groups, leading to mass protests across the country that were brutally quelled. 83
  2. India grossly discriminates against its minority population through laws, in violation of the fundamental freedom of religion in Article 18 of the ICCPR. 23 out of 29 states in India have introduced laws criminalising cow slaughter, trade, and consumption of beef with harsh sentences.84 In the state of Gujarat, the punishment for cow slaughter was increased to life imprisonment. Several BJP-ruled states have passed laws requiring governmental permission for religious conversion for marriage, which are justified with reference to the conspiracy theory that Muslim men trick Hindu women into conversion.85 Such laws violate the right to family life (Article 23) and right to freedom of religion (Article 18) in the ICCPR. Such laws have also emboldened vigilante groups, who engage in extrajudicial violence against people from religious minorities in response to alleged violations of these laws.86

Short-term risks

  1. Worsening persecution of religious minorities places India at the risk of mass atrocities, which is already visible in the ongoing armed conflict in Manipur.87 Violence against Muslim vendors, traders and business people, and calls for boycott against minority businesses, create potentially serious concerns for the consequences of increased trade moving forward.88 Given that the EU does not traditionally consider religious minorities stakeholder groups in their human rights impact assessments, the risks for this stakeholder group are not yet known, and urgent research is needed to identify and mitigate potential harms. This lack of awareness can result in inadequate protection of the rights and well-being of religious minorities.

Recommendations in the context of the Free Trade Agreement

47.The EU and India should both conduct a comprehensive human rights and sustainability impact assessment (HRIA) before continuing further negotiations. The HRIA should consider the impact on vulnerable and often discriminated groups, especially on religious minorities. This should particularly examine the effects of economic boycotts of Muslims ongoing in India.

  • The EU and India should give explicit mention to the rights of gender, sexual, religious and ethnic minorities and caste-oppressed groups, as minority groups all benefit from equal rights and protections. Otherwise, the mention of minority rights risks being a box-ticking exercise.
  • The EU and India should jointly commit to repealing discriminatory laws, i.e. laws that prohibit the free choice of religion under the guise of preventing involuntary conversions. Discriminatory laws that restrict the free choice of religion can be used as tools of religious persecution and violate the right to equality and freedom of choice.


68 The Wire (2020), Anurag Thakur Leads Crowd to Chant ‘Shoot the Traitors’,

69 Centre for Human Rights, University of the Free State (June 2022), Report of the Panel of Independent International Experts (PIIE) to examine information about alleged violations of international law committed against Muslims in India since July 2019, 4e4920_0

70 Early Warning Project (2022), Countries at Risk for Mass Killing 2022–23: Early Warning Project Statistical Risk Assessment Results, -project-statistical-risk-assessment-results

71 European Parliament (2023), European Parliament resolution of 13 July 2023 on India, the situation in Manipur,
72 Foundation The London Story (2023), Background Dossier on Ethno-Religious Violence and Human Rights Abuses in Manipur, India, uses-in-manipur-india/

73 OHCHR (2023), India: UN experts alarmed by continuing abuses in Manipur, r
74 OHCHR (2023), India: UN experts alarmed by continuing abuses in Manipur, r

75 The London Story (2022), UPR Cycle IV India Factsheet,
76 National Herald (2022), Violent attacks against Christians up by 81 per cent since 2020, 505 incidents in 2021, 020-505-incidents-in-2021
77 DW (2021), Why are Christians being targeted in India?
78 Kaushik Raj (2023), Indian Muslims in Haryana face calls for economic boycott after violence, AlJazeera, violence-in-nuh

79 USCIRF (2020), The Citizenship (Amendment) Act in India,

80 United Nations (2019), New citizenship law in India ‘fundamentally discriminatory’: UN human rights office,
81 The Hindu (2019), Centre plans NRC exercise all over the country: Amit Shah, h-in-rajya-sabha/article61670698.ece

82 Foundation The London Story (2021), Assam Dossier,
83 PUDR (2019), Bloody Sunday,

84 The Wire (2021), Book Excerpt: The Many Anti-Muslim Laws Brought in By the Modi Government,
85 AlJazeera (2021), India’s ‘love jihad’ laws: Another attempt to subjugate Muslims, slims

86 Mahibul Hoque (2023), Muslim man with mental health conditions lynched in Assam, Maktoob Media,; Sukrita Baruah (2023), 4 lynchings in a month in Assam, DGP tells team to act ‘irrespective of caste, creed, religion, Indian Express,

87 Early Warning Project (2022), Countries at Risk for Mass Killing 2022–23: Early Warning Project Statistical Risk Assessment Results, -project-statistical-risk-assessment-results

88 CSW (2023), CSW input to the Trade Sustainability Impact Assessment of the EUIndia trade and investment agreements,

Source: Foundation The London Story (2022)

Further reading about FORB in the EU and in India on HRWF website