India witnessed ‘targeted attack’ on religious minorities in 2022, US State Department report says

Attacks on members of religious minority communities took place in multiple states of India throughout 2022, the US State Department said in its annual report on religious freedom.

The report highlighted "continued targeted attacks" on religious minorities, including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits and Indigenous communities under the rule of prime minister Narendra Modi's Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

It comes a month ahead of Mr Modi's first official state visit to the US in nine years since being elected to the prime minister's office in 2014.

A senior US official, briefing reporters, spoke of India’s “vast potential” and said he was “saddened” by the persistence of religious violence.

The annual report, the official said, outlined continued targeted attacks against religious communities, dehumanising rhetoric, including open calls for genocide against Muslims.

The report noted attacks on houses of worship and home demolitions, impunity and clemency for those involved in the attack along with some restrictions on religious attire.

New Delhi has been encouraged to "condemn violence and hold accountable" those engaging in dehumanising rhetoric against the minority communities, the official said.

The report, based on direct research as well as accounts by media and advocacy groups, pointed to concerns about home demolitions against Muslims and the involvement of law enforcement in public flogging by police of Muslims accused of injuring Hindus in Mr Modi's home state of Gujarat.

It highlighted incidents of “cow vigilantism” against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef and assault on Muslim men who were alleged to have married Hindu women to convert them.

A bulldozer dismantles structures outside a mosque during the demolition drive of illegal structures in Delhi’s violence-hit Jahangirpuri (EPA)
A bulldozer dismantles structures outside a mosque during the demolition drive of illegal structures in Delhi’s violence-hit Jahangirpuri (EPA)

There were also attacks on pastors, disruption of Christian and Muslim worship services, and vandalism of churches, it noted.

Muslims comprise nearly 14 per cent of India’s 1.4 billion people while Hindus are nearly 80 per cent of the population and Christians at two per cent.

It cited the non-profit United Christian Forum (UCF) report that said there had been 511 anti-Christian incidents around the country reported to its hotline by end of November 2022, compared to 505 in all of 2021.

Christian groups said the local police in multiple states aided crowds who disrupted worship services, alleging forcible conversion of Hindus.

The report noted violent protests in several parts of India that erupted after former BJP members Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal made derogatory remarks about prophet Muhammad on live television.

Earlier this month, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called on the US State Department to designate India as a “country of particular concern” for the fourth year in a row.

However, secretary of state Antony Blinken is likely to spare India, with which the US has been strengthening ties for decades, to counter China’s rising aggression.

Mr Blinken, while presenting the report on Monday, did not mention India as he voiced alarm about China, Iran, Myanmar and Nicaragua.

“We defend the right to believe – or to not believe – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because of the extraordinary good that people of faith can do in our societies and around the world,” he said.