Ground Report | New Delhi: Minorities in Uttar Pradesh; A new law criminalizing inter-religious marriages in Uttar Pradesh state on grounds of “unlawful religious conversions” is discriminatory and impacts religious freedom, an official with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has said.
“It often results in violence and [abets] efforts to prohibit interfaith marriages using the false narrative of false conversions,” Niala Mohammad, Senior Policy Analyst, USCIRF, said at a Congressional Briefing at Washington, D.C. The law was “particularly concerning not just for its discriminatory purpose but also because of its vague and… potentially wide-reaching impacts on religious freedoms in the state.”
Hindu nationalists had launched “inflammatory campaigns decrying interfaith relationships or engagement, including calling for boycotts and censorships of media depictions of interfaith relationships. These efforts targeting and de-legitimizing interfaith relationships have led to attacks and arrest of non-Hindus and violence towards any interfaith interaction,” she said.
Niala said the demolition of two mosques in Uttar Pradesh last month, one by officials defying a court order, was “particularly alarming for USCIRF.” Indian Supreme Court’s verdict last year handing the site of a mosque, demolished in 1992 by Hindu extremists, for building a Hindu temple in its place, was also alarming, she added. USCIRF was “concerned about religious freedom conditions in India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh.”
The Briefing, titled “State Repression on Civil Liberties in Uttar Pradesh,” was attended by policy staff of Members of US Congress and officials from the US Department of State, among others. It was organized by Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), India Civil Watch International (ICWI), Dalit Solidarity Forum (DSF), International Christian Concern (ICC), Justice for All (JFA), and Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA).
Minorities in Uttar Pradesh; Mohammad said India’s restrictions on foreign funding of NGOs had impacted religious freedoms in UP with the result that “religious minority rights violation is occurring frequently and civil society lacks the freedom to document these or raise voice against them.”
That is why, she said, USCIRF had recommended that the US Department of State-designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), for “engaging in and tolerating systemic, ongoing and egregious violation of religious freedom,” and “impose targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ or entities’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States.”
Mohammad said disinformation and “intolerant content” about Muslims, Christians, Dalits had “emboldened intimidation, harassment and created incidents of mob violence.” She cited “hateful rhetoric” from government officials and images circulated on social media at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year for spreading such hate.
Govind Acharya, India Specialist with Amnesty International USA, referenced the brutal police attack at Aligarh Muslim University, a historic educational institution in Uttar Pradesh, following peaceful protests against the CAA-NRC. Amnesty’s investigation showed that the police blocked ambulances, he said. “The crackdown at AMU and other parts of Uttar Pradesh is one way to violate human rights using police brutality during the CAA protests.”
Joining the briefing from Uttar Pradesh’s capital city of Lucknow, human rights activist and Magsaysay Award winner, Sandeep Pandey said Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s government had turned Uttar Pradesh into a “police state where every problem is viewed as a law and order problem and functions in a way in which victims are made into accused and ordinary citizens are criminalized.”
He recalled that UP Police killed 22 Muslims, many in firing on protesters who had hit the streets against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) “which were perceived to be discriminatory in nature especially against the Muslim community… Over 700 people were arrested on charges of destruction of property, rioting, and attempt to murder in what were mostly false cases.”
Nikhil Mandalaparthy, Advocacy Director, HfHR, said the “love Jihad” laws had “led to mass arrests of young Muslim men and empowered Hindu extremist groups to carry on attacks.”
Hena Zuberi, Washington, D.C. Director for JFA said the BJP had “used communalism and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the past and that rhetoric has led to the attacks and deaths.” Citing lawsuits against mosques across Uttar Pradesh, she said such “petitions will evolve as an issue in central politics and we feel these will be used by the BJP to attract the majority Hindu population and cause violence against the Muslim community and their places of worship.”
Minorities in Uttar Pradesh; John Prabhudoss, FIACONA Chairman, said Christian organizations were “literally choking” in Uttar Pradesh as “village churches are being burnt and [Christian] families are beaten.” Many lawyers defending such victims were being targeted and had gone into hiding, he added.
Roja Singh, DSF President, said dominant caste members were assaulting Dalits in Uttar Pradesh to wield power. “Anti-Dalit violence, including rapes, which has one of the highest crime rates against Dalits, is a manifestation of entitlement and ownership of Dalit bodies.”
Joining the Briefing from New Delhi, Indian journalist and author Bhasha Singh said Uttar Pradesh had become “an ideal laboratory” for converting India into a Hindu nation in which “there should be no dissent, no space for a woman, no space for a Dalit, for a minority, there is no space to express or to do their rightful duties.”