RELIGIOUS minorities in India are facing “systematic persecution” at the hands of Hindu nationalists, which is condoned by the authorities, the police, and the media, new research suggests.
The report Destructive Lies: Disinformation, speech that incites violence and discrimination against religious communities in India, by the Christian charity Open Doors, based on research compiled by a team from the London School of Economics (LSE), says that Christian and Muslim minorities are facing an “existential threat” from mobs of Hindu nationalists known as Hindutva.
Researchers from the LSE — who have not been named for safety reasons — said that “state actors” were complicit in the attacks, as well as media, and senior religious leaders, who offered tacit approval for the violence. Social media are also frequently being used to stir up attacks on minorities, with impunity.
One researcher said: “The extent to which . . . state actors are complicit in the violence is shocking; it was there even at the ground level. The bureaucrats, the police, the lower court judges, all of them are . . . openly colluding to harass these minorities. And politicians, top religious leaders, and powerful media owners [are giving] very overt signals that this [behaviour] is desirable.”
Christian communities are now living in an “atmosphere of deep trauma, fear and anxiety”, the report says.
“Apart from regular spectacular incidents of mob lynching, even daily life for many religious minority groups is now marked by fear and a sense of abandonment from their fellow beings as well as from the government, and indeed their own religious institutions,” researchers said.
Covid-19 has worsened the persecution, as false accusations that Christians and Muslims have deliberately spread the virus are repeated on social-media channels.
The 27,000-word report documents dozens of cases of bullying, harassment, and violence against Christian and Muslim individuals and communities. Researchers spent two months earlier this year carrying out fieldwork to compile the report.
They refer to the case of Sunita, an eight-months-pregnant Christian woman: she was assaulted and kicked in the stomach by a group of boys and men, who killed her unborn baby.
A teenager in Odisha was lynched and murdered by a vigilante mob, and his family subjected to a violent assault, the researchers report. In another case, a Christian man, Gagan, and his family were beaten in their home, but when they tried to report the attack, the police refused to file a report on it. A mob threatened to kill the family if they stayed in the village, and has cut off their access to water.
In another case, a mob of men attacked a mosque using a police vehicle, and went on to burn down a house lived in by a Muslim family in Madhya Pradesh.
The report publishes a series of recommendations, among them, that the international community should launch a fact-finding mission to investigate the violence and human-rights abuses against religious minorities in India. Countries trading with India should also make any agreements conditional on respect for the human rights of all Indians, they say.
The UK is about to start negotiations for a trade deal with India.
Social-media companies must also increase the number of moderators they employ to stamp out posts incitement to persecute religious minorities in India, the report says.
The head of advocacy for Open Doors UK and Ireland, Dr David Landrum, says: “The international community can no longer ignore what is happening in India. They cannot turn a blind eye to these atrocities. We are calling for a thorough investigation of this brutal and systematic persecution of religious minorities.”
The World Wide Watch List, which is also compiled by Open Doors, ranks India tenth for its persecution of Christians. Its place in the list has worsened since the election of Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, as Prime Minister, in 2014. There are an estimated 67.4 million Christians in India: nearly five per cent of the population.
The research was conducted in February and March 2021 by an LSE research team based in India. The data was collected in localities where there had been reported incidents of anti-Christian or anti-Muslim violence.