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INDIA: Serious concerns raised at UN human rights review

Serious concerns raised at UN rights review

Member States seek protection of minority rights, free speech, peaceful assembly

Human Rights Watch (18.11.2022) – https://bit.ly/3Ost80S – The Indian government should promptly adopt and act on the recommendations that United Nations member states made at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process on November 10, 2022, six international human rights groups said today. The recommendations cover a range of key concerns including the protection of minority communities and vulnerable groups, tackling gender-based violence, upholding civil society freedoms, protecting human rights defenders, and ending torture in custody.


The groups are the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), CSW, International Dalit Solidarity Network, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.


All UN member states participate in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process, which examines their human rights record and proposes action to improve the human rights situations in their countries. In its report submitted to the UN ahead of its review, the Indian government claimed “it is firmly committed to the promotion and protection of human rights.” However, in the past UPR cycles, India has ignored important recommendations, including to address increasing violence against religious minorities, ensure accountability of its security forces, and protect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.


During the periodic review, India’s fourth, 130 member states made 339 recommendations highlighting some of the most urgent human rights concerns in the country.


Since its last review in 2017, India has undergone a serious regression in human rights under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The government has escalated its crackdown on independent and democratic institutions, and is using draconian counterterrorism and national security laws to prosecute and harass human rights activists, journalists, students, government critics, and peaceful protesters. Attacks, discrimination, and incitement against religious minorities are increasing. The traditionally marginalized Dalit and Adivasi communities have been denied justice and equitable protection.


At least 21 countries urged India to improve its protection of freedom of religion and rights of religious minorities, with several raising concerns over increasing violence and hate speech and the government’s adoption of discriminatory policies such as “anti-conversion” laws.


Since Modi’s BJP came to power in 2014, it has taken various legislative and other actions that have made it lawful to discriminate against religious minorities, particularly Muslims, and enabled violent Hindu majoritarianism, the groups said.


The government passed a citizenship law in December 2019 that discriminates against Muslims, for the first time making religion the basis for citizenship. In August 2019, the government revoked the constitutional autonomy granted to the only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, and continues to restrict free expression, peaceful assembly, and other basic rights in the region. Since October 2018, Indian authorities have deported at least 13 Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar despite the risks to their lives and security.


Indian states have used laws against cow slaughter to prosecute Muslim cattle traders even as BJP-affiliated groups attack Muslims and Dalits on rumors that they killed or traded cows for beef. At least 10 Indian states forbid forced religious conversion, but they misuse the laws to target Christians. States also enforce these laws to harass and arrest Muslim men in relationships with Hindu women. Throughout 2022, authorities in several BJP-ruled states demolished Muslim homes and properties without legal authorization or due process, either as summary or collective punishment, holding them responsible for the violence during the communal clashes.


Twenty countries said that India should improve protection of freedom of expression and assembly, and create an enabling environment for civil society groups, human rights defenders, and media to do their work. Some of these countries expressed concerns over the use of the counterterrorism law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), against activists, journalists, and members of religious minority communities. Over the years, rights groups and several UN human rights experts have raised concerns over the use of this law, which is widely criticized for failing to conform to international human rights standards, to detain activists and others for exercising their basic rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.


A number of countries raised concerns over the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), the law used to regulate foreign funding for nongovernmental organizations, and asked the government to review or amend the law to bring it line with international human rights standards.


The Indian authorities have used the law to shut down foreign funding for thousands of civil society groups, particularly those that work on human rights or the rights of vulnerable communities. Several UN bodies have warned that the law is being used to silence dissent. In October 2020, then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the act is “indeed actually being used to deter or punish NGOs for human rights reporting and advocacy that the authorities perceive as critical in nature.”

Nineteen countries said that India should ratify the UN Convention against Torture, a treaty it signed in 1997 but never ratified. India said in both 2012 and 2017 UPR cycles that it remained committed to ratifying the treaty. But it hasn’t taken steps to fulfill its commitment even as torture and other ill-treatment continue to be used routinely by police and other security forces to gather information or coerce confessions.


Countries also urged India to address caste-based discrimination; strengthen efforts aimed at alleviating poverty, improving access to health care, safe drinking water, and sanitation, and providing access to free and quality education for all children; ensure a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment; and strengthen protections for children, women, and persons with disabilities.


The Indian government has said that the “UPR is an important mechanism that India fully supports” and “as the world’s largest democracy, India is committed to the highest standards of human rights.”


The Indian government needs to follow up on the concerns raised by other member states at the UPR, which are shared widely by rights groups and several UN bodies, and take immediate steps to correct course and protect the rights and dignity of all people, the groups said.


Photo: Delegates attend the opening day of the 50th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, in Geneva, June 13, 2022. © 2022 Keystone/Valentin Flauraud

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website

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INDIA : 30 pastors incarcerated in the state of Uttar Pradesh

30 pastors incarcerated in Uttar Pradesh

Indian Christian group seeks release of jailed pastors

UCA News (07.11.2022) – https://bit.ly/3tjamiB – A group of Christian pastors in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has appealed for the release of some 30 fellow pastors incarcerated in different jails across the province.

Pastor Jitendra Singh, general secretary of the Pastors’ Association, Uttar Pradesh, told UCA News that all of them were falsely charged with indulging in religious conversions.

Most of the arrests were made after the state’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government criminalized religious conversions through allurement, force, or coercion among other means, by enacting an anti-conversion law in February 2021.

“We want justice for the pastors who have been victims of persecution by Hindu nationalists,” Pastor Singh told UCA News on Nov. 7.

The group has sought the intervention of the police commissioner in Kanpur city to protect the Christian pastors from harassment and persecution.

The pastors in their memorandum have alluded to how the hardcore nationalists groups and individuals disrupt Christian prayers gatherings, ransack churches and prayer halls, destroy copies of the Holy Bible and manhandle pastors, priests and nuns, by citing violations of the state’s anti-conversion law.

The pastors also urged the police commissioner to provide protection to the community members and their places of worship.

Police Commissioner Bhagirath P Jogdand has assured the group that he would look into their grievances.

“Persecution of Christians has increased since the anti-conversion law came into being,” Brother Joy Mathew says adding that this was since the BJP government came to power.

“Many Christian leaders were sent to jail, but so far no one has been convicted as the cases do not stand legal scrutiny in the court. We proclaim the Word of God strictly within the purview of the constitutional safeguards and the state’s laws but those attacking us are violating the legal and constitutional mandate. They must be punished,” he added.

Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state with 200 million people. Christians make up 0.18 percent of its population.

Data on Christian persecution collected and released by the rights group, United Christian Forum reveals that the number of violent incidents against Christians rose to 486 in 2021 from 279 in 2020.

The Supreme Court on Sept. 1 directed the federal government to verify allegations of the attacks on members of the Christian community, and asked eight states including Uttar Pradesh, with the maximum number of such cases, to submit reports within two months on the action taken on each complaint.

Photo: Christian devotees participating in a prayer meeting in the city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. (Photo: Facebook)

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website

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INDIA : Hindu nationalism is exporting its Islamophobia

Hindu nationalism is exporting its Islamophobia

Hindutva is linking with other modern fascist movements across the globe.

By Omar Suleiman


RNS (06.10.2022) – https://bit.ly/3Td1RR3 – For years, one of the biggest threats to Muslims in the world has been the reinvention and rise of Hindu nationalism in India. This is in part because of the sheer number of Muslims in the country: Indian Muslims represent 10% of all Muslims worldwide. Now the movement known as Hindutva (“Hindu-ness”) is not only threatening Indian Muslims or India’s proud democratic tradition, it is spreading its radical nationalism around the globe.


The man behind India’s modern revival of Hindutva is Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose career began in the ultraconservative Hindu organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. In the early 2000s, when Modi was chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat, a series of anti-Muslim riots there led to nearly 2,000 deaths by some estimates. Modi, who implicitly condoned the violence by doing little to stop it, became known as the Butcher of Gujarat. In 2005, Modi was denied entry to the United States under the International Religious Freedom Act.


But after Modi became prime minister in 2014, President Barack Obama welcomed him over fierce objections and protests from Indian Americans and human rights advocates. Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden have continued to normalize Modi’s facism, not only allowing him to visit but, in the case of Trump, appearing with him at a Texas rally celebrating his leadership.


In India, Hindutva has most egregiously impacted Muslims in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, but Hindutva has begun to come west. Last month in Leicester, England, young Hindu men marched through the streets chanting “Jai Sri Ram” — “Glory to Lord Ram,” a Hindu nationalist war cry — and attacking Muslims. Attacks at local houses of worship ensued, and nearly 50 people have been arrested.


Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a public intellectual in India, wrote that the tensions in Leicester followed a familiar ethno-nationalist playbook for stoking violence: “the use of rumors, groups from outside the local community, and marches to create polarization in otherwise peaceful communities.”


Majid Freeman, a Muslim activist, told The New York Times’ Megan Specia that the Hindu nationalist aggression in Leicester had drained public trust in the historically diverse community, where Muslims and Hindus together make up about a quarter of the population. “We just want the city to go back to how it was,” said Freeman. “Now everyone is looking over their shoulders.”


Across the Atlantic, at an India Independence Day parade in Edison, New Jersey, the festivities included a bulldozer draped with a picture of Modi, whose political party, BJP, is associated with Hindutva causes. Bulldozers have become a symbol of Islamophobia in India, where they have been used to demolish homes belonging to Muslims on the mere suspicion of participating in protests or riots. A few months ago, I spoke with Afreen Fatima, an Indian Muslim activist whose home was bulldozed and her father imprisoned.


Pranay Somayajula, outreach coordinator for Hindus for Human Rights, has emphasized the need for urgent action to counter the spread of Hindutva. “The diaspora, and in particular Hindu Americans, urgently need to speak out against the infiltration of Hindutva hatred into our communities,” Somayajula said.


Modi’s Hindutva is part of a wider rise in fascist movements across the globe. Masked as ultraconservative nationalism, modern fascism has developed as a racist and anti-immigration identity, rooted in ignorance and moral decay. In many places, it includes a virulent Islamophobia. India’s ethno-nationalism has created bonds with other states, such as Israel.


Indeed, in 2019, Sandeep Chakravorty, India’s consul general to New York City, told Kashmiri Hindus and Indian nationals that India will foster Kashmir’s depleted Hindu population by building settlements modeled after Israel’s implanting of Jewish residents in Palestinian communities.


To those paying attention, Hindutva is a growing international crisis. The threat of genocide is an abomination emanating from the world’s largest democracy, and it’s already spilling over into our politics and streets at home.


Photo: A bulldozer razes structures in the area that saw communal violence during a Hindu religious procession in New Delhi’s northwest Jahangirpuri neighborhood, India, April 20, 2022. Authorities riding bulldozers razed a number of Muslim-owned shops in New Delhi before India’s Supreme Court halted the demolitions, days after communal violence shook the capital and saw dozens arrested. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website

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INDIA: Law preventing free religious conversion in Karnataka

Law preventing free religious conversion in Karnataka is “contrary to the Constitution and human dignity”

Agenzia Fides (05.10.2022) – https://bit.ly/3SPJCS2  – The recent bill that seeks to regulate religious conversions in the Indian state of Karnataka – a state in Southwestern India with more than 64 million inhabitants – goes against the Constitution, violates human dignity, freedom of conscience and religious freedom: this is what Father Irudhaya Jothi, a Jesuit committed to works and social services in the State, declared to Agenzia Fides.


The legislation that the Upper House of the State of Karnataka (the “Karnataka Legislative Council”, in the bicameral system) has definitively approved – after the approval of the Lower House in December 2021 – “is a draconian law is unjustified”, observes the religious. “Its objective is to scare Christians and members of other communities, to strengthen support for Hindu nationalist parties”, he argues.


The current provisions of the bill “can be misused to discourage poor and oppressed communities, especially Dalits (untouchable and marginalized groups) and tribal communities, from education, employment and social assistance programs,” observes the Jesuit.

Father Devasagayaraj M. Zacharias, former secretary of the Office for Dalits of the Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), agrees: “The Constitution of India – he reminds Fides – enshrines the fundamental right of the person to profess, practice and propagate any conscientiously chosen religion. The enactment of the anti-conversion law is contrary to the Indian Constitution and must be challenged in court”.


“The procedure to convert from one faith to another – he points out – is so cumbersome and bureaucratic that it is almost impossible to complete the religious conversion”. In particular, all Dalits who wish to convert to Christianity “will be hampered only by a political issue.”


The “Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill” was passed by the Karantaka Lower House on December 23, 2021, but was not presented to the Upper House because the “Bharatiya Janata Party” (BJP), the Hindu nationalist formation that promoted it, did not have a majority in that assembly at the time.


In 2022, thanks to some administrative votes, the BJP also obtained a majority in the Upper House, with 41 members out of 75. On September 15, the bill was introduced by the BJP and approved.


“The Supreme Court has affirmed that freedom of religion does not allow forced conversions. There is freedom of conversion, but not under duress or seduction”, said Karantaka’s Interior Minister, Araga Jnanendra, when presenting the bill on September 15 and justifying the legislation.


“Religious conversion must be regulated: this is the intention behind the bill. We do not want to deprive anyone of a right, nor violate Article 25 of the Constitution [which guarantees the right to practice and propagate religion, ed.]”, stated the Prime Minister of Karnataka, Basavaraj Bommai, explaining the purpose of the law: “We want to maintain law and order and prevent religious conflicts”.Catholic writer and journalist John Dayal comments to Fides: “This is not the way to prevent conflicts.


In fact, the law violates the rule of law and religious freedom. Let us remember that India is a democratic republic that has always sanctioned and protected the fundamental rights of the people, including the freedom to profess, practice and propagate one’s religion.”


According to the bill, “no one can convert or attempt to convert, directly or indirectly, another person from one religion to another by false statement, force, undue influence, duress, seduction, or any fraudulent means, including through marriage; no one will encourage or organize religious conversions of other people”.In case of violation, a prison sentence of three to five years and a fine of 25,000 Indian rupees (307 dollars) is foreseen, while the prison sentence is raised to 10 years and the fine of 50,000 rupees (614 dollars) for those who convert minors, women and people from the “Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes” communities, considered marginalized and vulnerable groups.


According to the established procedure, if a person intends to change his faith, the minister of worship must notify the magistrate, who will announce it publicly on a notice board, pending the objections that, where appropriate, will be examined. Subsequently, if no doubts have arisen, the interested party will be summoned by the magistrate to verify his identity and confirm the content of the statement. In addition, family members, relatives or friends of a person who claims to have changed their beliefs can file a “complaint for forced conversion” in court.


The practice of proposing regulations that regulate or restrict religious conversion has taken hold for some years in the Indian Federation, thanks to the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Several states in northern, western and eastern India such as Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand have passed laws restricting religious conversions. Karnataka, in southern India, has been the latest to enact such a law.


Indian Christians have always opposed these measures, and in some cases have filed legal challenges.


Photo: fides.org

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website

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INDIA : Christians wary as Indian state outlaws conversion

Christians wary as Indian state outlaws conversion

Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore says he will disclose stance on Karnataka’s latest anti-conversion law in court

UCA News (16.09.2022) – https://bit.ly/3BtPoBl – Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore had a guarded response a day after the provincial government in India’s southern state of Karnataka gave its final seal of approval to a law criminalizing religious conversions.

The state’s Legislative Council or upper house passed the contentious Karnataka Right to Freedom of Religion Bill with a majority vote on Sept. 15.

The anti-conversion law was already in force after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules the state, promulgated an ordinance on May 17 with the signature of the state governor after it failed to muster enough support in the Legislative Council, whose final sanction is a must for any law to come into force.

The law was passed by the state Legislative Assembly last December but the BJP was one seat short of a majority in the 75-member upper house. Having mustered up enough numbers now, it went ahead in what is perceived as a well-planned political strategy.

The ordinance now stands repealed or canceled with the passage of the bill within six months of the governor issuing it, as required under the Indian Constitution.

The opposition Congress and Janata Dal (People’s Front) parties, however, called the move “unconstitutional.”

When contacted by UCA News on Sept. 16, Bishop Machado said he had already challenged the ordinance in the state’s high court and refused to make further comments on the new law.

The prelate said he would disclose his position before the court rather than make it public through the media.

Archbishop Machado, who heads the regional bishops’ forum, has been one of the fiercest critics of anti-conversion laws in the country.

“The Christian community feels betrayed when its sentiments are not taken note of. Its selfless services in the fields of education, healthcare and other social areas for the welfare of all communities are not taken into consideration,” he had said in a statement on May 18, a day after the Karnataka government promulgated the ordnance.

He had repeatedly drawn the attention of the BJP government and people of the state  that the law was “irrelevant and malicious” and “aimed at dividing the Christians from other religious minorities.”

Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said there is no intention to take away anybody’s right to practice and propagate one’s religion as is being made out.

“If there have to be conversions then let them be as per a law and that is the intention behind this bill,” he added.

Home Minister Araga Jnanendra, who introduced the bill in the upper house, dismissed the concerns of Christians by saying “there is freedom to convert but not under coercion or allurement.”

The new law prescribes imprisonment of three to five years along with a fine ranging from Indian rupees 25,000 to 100,000 (US$330-1,330) in case of conversion due to “force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means” or “by a promise of marriage.”

Anyone wanting to change religion will have to file a declaration before designated government authorities at least 30 days in advance, citing the reasons for the decision.

On the issue of interfaith marriages, the law states that “any marriage which has happened with the sole purpose of unlawful conversion or vice-versa by the man of one religion with the woman of another religion either by converting himself before or after marriage or by converting the woman before or after marriage shall be declared as null and void.”

Christians in Karnataka state say Hindu groups have been aggressively targeting them since the pro- Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in the state in 2018.

“They attack our Churches, social institutions and the faithful by creating a false impression that Christians are illegally converting poor people,” said a Church official who did not want to be named.

Christians make up 1.87 percent of Karnataka’s 61 million people, according to the 2011 census.

Photo: Christians participate in a special ‘Prayer for our Country’ to celebrate Republic Day at the Union Chapel in Kolkata on January 26, 2020. (Photo: AFP/ UCAN files)

Further reading about FORB in India on HRWF website

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