“BJP also strengthened and expanded a series of discriminatory laws and measures that target religious minorities”: South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020

News Desk: India has become a “dangerous and violent space for Muslim minorities” ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government introduced amendments to the Citizenship Act last year, said the South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020.

The annual report looks at the status of civic space and personal liberties accessible to citizens, especially minorities, living in South Asian countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

It said that while civic space is under threat the world over, India’s case was unique in terms of the “alarming setbacks” that have “taken place at an extraordinary pace, over the span of a few years”.

“India has become a dangerous and violent space for Muslim minorities,” the report said. “In December 2019, an amendment in the Citizenship Act was passed which opened a pathway for a category of illegal immigrants, specifically leaving out Muslims. In the run-up to the legislation, the government also declared its intentions to create a National Register of Indian Citizens, which would have the potential to render many Muslims stateless.”

The report said that the BJP assuming power nationally in 2014 “unveiled a new and now frontal attack on religious minorities and other vulnerable groups. This has had a chilling effect on civic space for Muslims and Muslim-community-based organisations and activists specifically, it added.

South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020 says “Hate crimes against minorities have seen a spike – taking the form of mob lynching and vigilante violence against Muslims, Christians, and Dalits. BJP also strengthened and expanded a series of discriminatory laws and measures that target religious minorities. These include anti-conversion laws, blamed by human rights groups for empowering Hindutva groups to ‘conduct campaigns of harassment, social exclusion and violence against Christians, Muslims, and other religious minorities across the country’.60 Laws ostensibly meant for the protection of cows continue to provide institutional backing for similar campaigns against Muslims and Dalits.”

However, the situation has “exacerbated significantly” since BJP returned to power with a “brute majority” in May 2019, the report said. In quick succession, it enacted a slew of measures aimed at signalling to Muslims “particularly its will to brutally subjugate”, it added.

Alongside, the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, which regulates foreign donations to entities in India, has been “further weaponised against progressive and minority NGOs”, it noted.

The report also found that India’s civil society actors, which include human rights lawyers, activists, protestors, academics, journalists, liberal intelligentsia, have “increasingly been under attack” for speaking out against “government excesses and majoritarianism”.

Besides, human rights defenders have increasingly come under attack for “protesting discriminatory laws and practices have faced restrictions, violence, criminal defamation, detention and harassment”, the report said.

It further highlighted the alleged human rights violation in Jammu and Kashmir since last year when the Centre abrogated the erstwhile state’s special status under Article 370 of the Constitution.

“The case of Muslim-majority Kashmir – where regressive constitutional changes in August 2019 were accompanied by a communication blackout, mass detentions, and a movement lockdown –demonstrates how civic space can be sought to be completely erased, within a formal democratic framework,” it said.

It said that while civic space in conflict-affected Kashmir has always been restricted, the “most recent round of attacks on ‘basic freedoms’ were, however, quite unlike anything before in their being all-encompassing and systematic”.