By Prarthana Mitra
India ranked among the top five nations where religious freedom has given way to unchecked discrimination and attacks against minorities, according to a recent study conducted by a Catholic NGO. A total of 38 nations were found to endanger the rights of its citizens to practise all religions, while the situation has escalated to alarming proportions in 18 of them, in the report published this week.
Aid to the Church in Need, in collaboration with independent journalists, undertakes this survey every two years. For the 14th edition of their report, the study took incidents of religious persecution in 21 countries into account, concluding that China and India, in particular, registered the greatest risks to religious freedom, followed by Niger, Myanmar, Algeria, Turkey and Russia.
“We’ve observed a trivialisation of attacks on religious freedom,” said Marc Fromager, head of the NGO’s French chapter, at a press conference in Paris. “This hostility toward minorities has worsened to the point that we can qualify this as aggressive ultranationalism,” it concluded, just weeks after BBC published a report blaming rising nationalism compounded by fake news as the root cause for increasing mob violence and hate speech.
No country for minorities
With the rise of hardline Hindutva politics, targeted attacks on minorities and anti-Muslim hysteria, in particular, have increased. The very ideology of the centre seems to hinge on denying the complex and diverse fabric of our nation, in a bid to consciously rewrite its history.
Not long ago, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath shared the stage with a BJP supporter who claimed they should dig out dead bodies of Muslim women and rape them. Adityanath himself wants to do away with voting rights for Muslims and introduce a travel ban on Muslims in India. Not surprisingly, the state registers one of the highest counts of lynchings and attacks motivated by religious differences and communalism.
Another visible impact of mainstreaming the “holy cow” ideology has been the beef ban in pockets of the country where the BJP is most active.
Recently, the Gujarat government also came under scrutiny for asking students taking their board exams, to identify their religion with “Muslim” or “Others”; the state has at least four other religious minorities – Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains.
A report on the anti-conversion legislation recently introduced in several states records numerous instances where militants have beaten, threatened and killed church workers, forced Christians to renounce their faith and convert to Hinduism and bombed, torched, vandalised and demolished churches and missionary schools in the last few years.
Furthermore, the demonstrative intolerance towards inter-faith marriages, referred to as “love jihad” by Adityanath, is another testament to the declining religious liberty across the nation.
China and others
China’s brutal oppression of Tibetan Buddhists, Christians and the nomadic Uighur Muslim community is not unknown but the crackdown has increased significantly over the last few years ever since Chinese Premier Xi Jinping tightened his stranglehold over the nation and its activists. Churches have been destroyed, Uighurs are prohibited from observing the holy month of Ramadan, and Tibetan Buddhists are relentlessly persecuted according to the report.
However, this is not a problem restricted to India or China, even though the erosion of religious freedom is pronounced in countries that are culturally more diverse, like the US. The report noted a sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks with a concurrent rise of evangelism in Donald Trump’s America in 2018. The report seems to underline the correlation between populist governments catering to a particular religious sentiment and the rising hostility between religious sects that ultimately risks religious freedom.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.