State Department decries Hindu extremists' violence against Indian Muslims

Protesters hold placards as they gather during a 'Not in my name' silent protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on June 28, 2017, following a spate anti-Muslim killings. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The annual compendium by U.S. Dept. of State on International Religious Freedom, in its section on India, has said mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups continued unabated in 2018, especially against Muslims.

The report released on June 21, also alleged that in certain instances, law enforcement, were also complicit in this anti-Muslim, anti-minority violence.

“Mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, especially Muslims, continued throughout the year amid rumors that the victims had traded or killed cows for beef,” it said, and added, that the authorities “often protected perpetrators from prosecution.”

The report said that these attacks also “included allegations of involvement by law enforcement personnel.”

“There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs,” it added, and pointed to several BJP leaders and officials making “inflammatory speeches against minority communities,” contributing to often times igniting these attacks.

The Congressionally-mandated voluminous report that ran into several hundred pages, covering more than 150 countries and territories, noted that as of November, there were 18 such attacks against minorities for alleged cow slaughter and at least eight people were killed during the year.

It noted that 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 also documented the horrific rape and murder of AsifaBano, an eight-year-old girl who was killed in January 2018, and whose death, which allegedly involved police officers, prompted widespread protests and soul-searching across the nation.

The State Department report acknowledged that the Jammu and Kashmir police arrested eight men, including four police personnel, in connection with the kidnapping, gang rape, and killing of an eight-year-old girl.”

“The men allegedly kidnapped the victim, took her to a nearby temple, and raped and killed her in an effort to drive her nomadic Muslim community out of the area,” it said.

The report also pointed to a growing trend by the central and state governments, as well as members of political parties taking steps that adversely affected Muslim practices and institutions.

And, it spoke to how 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.

"Proposals to rename Indian cities with Muslim provenance continued, most notably the renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj. Activists said these proposals were designed to erase Muslim contributions to Indian history and had led to increased communal tensions," the report said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is scheduled to arrive in New Delhi on June 25, released the report at the State Department and said it was like a report card, which tracks countries to see how well they have respected this fundamental human right of religious freedom.

But almost immediately, the Narendra Modi administration pilloried the report and said, “India is proud of its secular credentials, its status as the largest democracy and a pluralistic society with a longstanding commitment to tolerance and inclusion.”

Raveesh Kumar, External Affairs Ministry spokesman, said in a statement, “We see no locus standi [right to bring action] for a foreign entity to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.”

He said India’s constitution guarantees fundamental rights and religious freedom of all citizens, including its minority communities. Muslims make up 14 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people.

The State Department report also slammed Pakistan for holding more than 40 members of religious minority communities on blasphemy charges and called for their immediate release.

It also urged Islamabad to appoint a special envoy to address the growing charges of religious persecution in Pakistan, particularly against the Ahmadiyya, Christian and Hindu communities.

Pompeo in his remarks referred to the acquittal by the Pakistani Supreme Court of Asia Bibi, a Catholic, who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy and had nearly a decade in prison.

He said more than 40 others remain jailed for life, or face execution on that very charge of blasphemy.

“We continue to call for their releaseand encourage the government to appoint an envoy to address the various religious freedom concerns,” Pompeo said.

The State Department report bemoaned the exponential deterioration of religious freedom in Pakistan, which earlier this year was put on the list of Countries of Particular Concern.

Former U.S. Senator and erstwhile Governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback, a Republican who also once chaired the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who was appointed as Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom by the Trump administration, told reporters that the U.S. government would “make determinations” off of this report going forward, and putting countries on the watch list of Countries of Particular Concern, served notice to these countries to get their house in order and protect the religious freedom of their citizens, particularly minorities.

Brownback, who was slated to receive the Hindu American Foundation’s Mahatma Gandhi Award for Advancing Pluralism at HAF’s Capitol Hill event on June 24, said he was extremely concerned over the persecution of various religious communities in Pakistan and said since visiting Pakistan earlier this year, he had continued to be in regular contact with Pakistani officials to make sure the administration’s concerns were being alleviated.

“I visited them, went to Pakistan earlier this year and we were in frequent contact with them. I've met with embassy officials to cite the issues that are going on in Pakistan. Unfortunately, there's been a lot of harm to various religious communities that have taken place in Pakistan,” he said, and added, “It's a country I've worked with often in the past, and it's my hope we're going to start to see some progress.”

Brownback said, “We have got a keen eye focused on them and hope to work with them, and to get them off the special watchlist. But they're going to have to take actions themselves.”

The State Department report said there were at least 77 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges, with at least 28 receiving death sentences, although the government has never executed anyone specifically for blasphemy.

Ahmadiyya Muslim community leaders and human rights organizations have consistently expressed concerns that the government has continued to targeted Ahmadi Muslims for blasphemy, and that they continued “to be affected by discriminatory and ambiguous legislation that denied them basic rights,” according to the report.

It said, "Visiting US government officials met with minority community representatives, parliamentarians, human rights activists, and members of the federal cabinet to highlight concerns regarding the treatment of the Shia, Ahmadiyya, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, and other minority communities, the application of blasphemy laws, and other forms of discrimination on the basis of religion.”

Pompeo in releasing the report, said President Donald Trump’s promotion of religious freedom was unprecedented in terms of being a part of the U.S. foreign policy agenda, and also announced the elevation of the Offices of International Religious Freedom and the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism within the State Department.

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