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US raps cow attacks, BJP fumes

In 2018, religious freedom conditions in India continued a downward trend, the US state department report said

By Our Special Correspondent in New Delhi

  • Published 23.06.19, 7:18 AM
  • Updated 23.06.19, 7:18 AM
“In 2018, approximately one-third of state governments increasingly enforced anti-conversion and/or anti-cow slaughter laws discriminatorily against non-Hindus and Dalits alike...
“In 2018, approximately one-third of state governments increasingly enforced anti-conversion and/or anti-cow slaughter laws discriminatorily against non-Hindus and Dalits alike..." the report said. Illustration by Rahul Awasthi

Mob attacks by Hindu extremists on Muslims and others continued in India in 2018 on the basis of rumours that the victims had traded or killed cows for beef, a US state department report said on Friday, triggering accusations of bias from the BJP.

“In 2018, religious freedom conditions in India continued a downward trend,” the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Report, 2019, said.

India’s “history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives — including, at times, the government’s allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities — that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities. Both public and private actors have engaged in this campaign”, it said.

“In 2018, approximately one-third of state governments increasingly enforced anti-conversion and/or anti-cow slaughter laws discriminatorily against non-Hindus and Dalits alike. Further, cow protection mobs engaged in violence, predominantly targeting Muslims and Dalits, some of whom have been legally involved in the dairy, leather or beef trades for generations.”

It said “mob violence was also carried out against Christians under accusations of forced or induced religious conversion”.

A statement from BJP media head Anil Baluni on Saturday contested these claims. “The basic presumption in this report that there is some grand design behind anti-minority violence is simply false,” it said. “On the contrary, in most such cases, these instances are carried out as a result of local disputes and by criminal mindsets.”

The US report cited government inaction against the perpetrators. “In cases involving mobs killing an individual based on false accusations of cow slaughter or forced conversion, police investigations and prosecutions often were not adequately pursued,” it said. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi seldom made statements decrying mob violence, and certain members of his political party have affiliations with Hindu extremist groups and used inflammatory language about religious minorities publicly.”

The BJP took exception to this. “Whenever needed, PM Modi and other BJP leaders have strongly deplored violence against minorities and weaker sections of the society,” Baluni’s statement said.

“India has deep-rooted democratic institutions, including (a) fiercely independent and proactive judiciary, which is quite capable of handling such disputes and punish the guilty. Unfortunately, this fact is completely ignored in this report.”

The US report said that as of November, there had been 18 attacks that had killed 8 people. It said that on June 22 last year, two Uttar Pradesh police officers had been charged with culpable homicide after a Muslim cattle trader died of injuries suffered in police custody.

It said it was again placing India on its “Tier 2 for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, egregious’ standard for designation as a ‘country of particular concern’”.

Among the recommendations it made to the US government are:

“Press the Indian government to allow a USCIRF delegation to visit the country and meet with stakeholders to evaluate conditions for freedom of religion or belief in India,” and “work with the Indian government to create a multi-year strategy to ebb the flow of hate crimes targeting religious minorities”.

It also asked Washington to press India’s “state governments to prosecute religious leaders, government officials and media personalities who incite violence against religious minority groups through public speeches or articles”.

The BJP claimed the Modi government was carrying out an unbiased development agenda that was benefiting all communities, and argued that its massive mandate in the general election was a reaffirmation of this.