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Attacks against minorities by Hindu extremist groups continue in India: US Report

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The US State Department in its annual 2018 International Religious Freedom Report says mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against the minority communities, particularly Muslims, continued in India in 2018, amid rumors that victims had traded or killed cows for beef and the authorities often protected perpetrators from prosecution. The US report also said that some senior officials of the ruling BJP made inflammatory speeches against the minority communities.

The report said that, as of November 2018, there were 18 such attacks and eight people killed during the year. On June 22, two Uttar Pradesh police officers were charged with culpable homicide after a Muslim cattle trader died of injuries sustained while being questioned in police custody, the report said.

Mandated by the Congress, the State Department in its voluminous report gives its assessment of the status of religious freedom in almost all countries and territories of the world. In the India section, it said there were reports by nongovernmental organizations that the government sometimes failed to act on mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalized communities and critics of the government.

The report also said that the central and state governments and members of political parties took steps that affected Muslim practices and institutions. The government continued its challenge in the Supreme Court to the minority status of Muslim educational institutions, which affords them independence in hiring and curriculum decisions, it said.

In its World Report covering 2018, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government failed to "prevent or credibly investigate" mob attacks on religious minorities, marginalized communities and critics of the government. At the same time, according to HRW, some BJP officials publicly supported perpetrators of such crimes and made inflammatory speeches against minority communities, which encouraged further violence. According to HRW, mob violence by extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, amid rumors that they traded or killed cows for beef continued throughout the year.

In February, the first public display of "ghar-wapsi" (returning home) reconversion activities facilitated by Hindu organizations for those who had left Hinduism took place in Kolkata. The organization Hindu Samhati featured 16 members of a Muslim family who were "reconverted to Hinduism" at a public rally. Hindu Samhati founder Tapan Ghosh said he had organized similar events previously for quite some time but decided to showcase the "reconverted" people in public as "the time was right."

In its official newspaper, the Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist regional party, stated the country's Muslim community had too many children and "needs a family planning policy." The paper's December 4 editorial said the policy was needed to "ensure stability in the country and maintain national security." It added, "the population of Indian Muslims is proliferating at the speed of a bullet train. Implementing family planning on them is the only solution."

"Throughout the year representatives from the embassy and consulates general met government officials to discuss challenges faced by religious minorities, especially Christians and Muslims, incidents of cow vigilantism, the status of religious freedom in the country, and religiously motivated violence," the US report on International Religious Freedom concluded.

Jewish community given minority status

On July 6 2018, Gujarat became the third state, along with Maharashtra and West Bengal, to grant the Jewish community minority status, providing members with "benefits of welfare schemes formulated for religious minority communities within the jurisdiction" of the state.

Interestingly, in March, a publisher included Adolf Hitler in a children's book on world leaders. Annushu Juneja, a publishing manager for the B. Jain Publishing Group, said Hitler was featured because "his leadership skills and speeches influenced masses." Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement, "Adolf Hitler? This description would bring tears of joy to the Nazis and their racist neo-Nazi heirs." The publisher subsequently discontinued sales of the book.

Laws governing minorities

India has an estimated population of 1.3 billion as of July 2018. According to the 2011 national census, the most recent year for which disaggregated figures are available, Hindus constitute 79.8% of the population, Muslims 14.2%, Christians 2.3% and Sikhs 1.7%. Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians (Parsis), Jews and Baha'is together constitute less than one per cent of the population.

The constitution states any reference to Hindus in law is to be construed as a reference to followers of Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism, meaning they are subject to laws regarding Hindus, such as the Hindu Marriage Act. Subsequent legislation continues to use the word Hindu as a blanket category that includes Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists, but clarifies these are separate religions whose followers are included under the legislation.

According to the Supreme Court, converting from Hinduism to another religion ordinarily "operates as an expulsion from the caste" since caste is a structure affiliated with Hindu society. Societal definitions of caste affiliation are determinative of a person's eligibility for government benefits. Federal law provides minority community status to six religious groups: Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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