Last year ended with nationwide protests against a series of controversial citizenship amendment laws passed by the Indian government in December. And according to experts, the country has since become a “dangerous and violent space for Muslim minorities.”
Throughout 2020, Indian civil society has been repeatedly attacked by state and central governments for criticizing the administration or state institutions. And now, the 2020 Report on South Asia’s State on Minorities has found that India has become more and more intolerant of dissenters and religious minorities.
The annual report looks at the state of civic space and personal freedoms accessible to citizens, especially minorities, living in South Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
While the report notes a detrimental trend in almost every one of the country’s attitudes towards supporting central dogmas of democracy including support for freedom of expression and secularism, its observations on India shed light on growing intolerance levels in the country.
Attacks on minorities
The report notes that India has become a “dangerous and violent space for Muslim minorities”.
In December 2019, the government of India passed the Citizenship Amendment Act which allowed the government of India to grant citizenship to migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who are Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis or Christians, and arrived in India before the end of December 2014. The law was not extended to Muslims from the three countries, all Muslims.
The government has also stated its intentions to implement the National Register of Indian Citizens which would allow the Indian government to identify and deport illegal immigrants. Linked to CAA, many critics opined that laws can be used to control and discriminate against India’s religious minorities.
In the year there were many attacks on minorities. While anti-CAA protests in north-east Delhi culminated in sectarian violence in February, the start of the coronavirus pandemic has also been linked to widespread Islamophobia after the Tablighi Jamaat event in Nizamuddin of Delhi was held COVID-19 hotspot.
More recently, execution and arrests under a new anti-conversion law in Uttar Pradesh have been called “Islamophobic” by critics for targeting Muslim men for “love jihad”.
Attacks by human rights defenders
The report also notes that India’s civil society actors, including human rights lawyers, activists, protesters, academics, journalists, liberal intellectuals, “have been increasingly attacked” for speaking out against “government excesses and majorityism”. .
Human rights defenders in India are increasingly attacking themselves for “protesting discriminatory laws and practices faced with restrictions, violence, criminal slander, arrest and harassment”.
The results follow an increasing number of arrests under the Prohibition of Prohibited Activities Act, or UAPA. The controversial law, often referred to as “severe” by critics who believe the law is being used to silence dissent in the nation.
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The report also notes an increase in media censorship. It notes the temporary bans of two channels based in Kerala due to “” criticism of Delhi Police and RSS “due to its coverage of Delhi riots.
In April this year, India dropped two places in global press freedom index to be 142nd out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders annual analysis.