The past ten years have been abysmal for minorities particularly Muslims and civil rights activists in India, according to the South Asia State of Minorities Report 2020.
The report also says neighbouring Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are all in the same rickety boat when it comes to minority rights and freedom to dissent.
The 349 page report is published by the South Asia Collective, an international group of activists and NGOs and funded by European Union.
“Civic space—defined as the environment that allows civil society organisations to organise, participate, and communicate without hindrance—has been a contested but vibrant space in India….Since 2014, these claims have begun to tarnish. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ascension to power that year, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has adversely impacted civic space in India, which, we will demonstrate, is shrinking, particularly for the country’s minorities and groups working with them,” report claimed.
The report also states that India’s civil society actors—its human rights lawyers, activists, protesters, academics, journalists, liberal intelligentsia, and others who have spoken out against government excess and majoritarianism—have increasingly been under attack.
The recently released document went on to say that BJP’s 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. Hate crimes against minorities have seen a spike—taking the form of mob lynching and vigilante violence against Muslims, Christians, and Dalits.”
Citizenship Amendment Act that targets Muslim migrants and the brutal police reponse to subsequent protests — in which 22 people were shot dead in Utter Pradesh state in a single day — further illustrate the worsening status of minorities in India, report pointed.
India has handicapped foreign NGOs by setting limits on how they can spend money received from international donors, said the report.
Most of the affected NGOs are the ones that work in areas which highlight abuse of power, government indifference towards the plight of minorities, and the brutality of security forces.
“BJP rule has been characterised by the open targeting of several high-profile NGOs, with foreign funding freezes being the weapon of choice,” it said.
According to the report, India’s performance in global press freedom indices has historically been among the worst in the democratic world.
“…between 25 March and 31 May 2020, at least 55 Indian journalists faced arrest, physical assaults, destruction of property, threats or registration of FIRs (police reports),” the report said.
The report went on to say that the Indian government has also been noted to make the most number of content takedown requests to social media platforms, and at least 50 people—mostly Muslims—were arrested for social media posts in just 2017 and 2018 alone.
Muslim majority region Kashmir valley faced a complete internet blackout for months after its nominal autonomy was withdrawn last year.
India is also using the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and sedition laws to target Muslims and Dalits, reported stated.
“Laws ostensibly meant for the protection of cows continue to provide institutional backing for similar campaigns against Muslims and Dalits,” the report said.
It added: “UAPA provisions have been invoked to detain dissenters protesting atrocities against Dalit and Adivasi, as well as against the CAA, among others, often just for making peaceful speeches.”