Last year ended with nationwide protests against a series of controversial citizenship change laws passed by the Indian government in December. And according to experts, the country has since become a “dangerous and violent space for Muslim minorities”.
Throughout 2020, Indian civil society has been repeatedly attacked by state and central governments for criticizing state administration or institutions. And now, the 2020 South Asian State of Minority Report has found that India has become increasingly intolerant of dissidents and religious minorities.
The annual report examines the state of civic space and personal freedoms accessible to citizens, especially minorities, living in South Asian countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
While the report notes a negative trend in almost all of the country’s attitudes towards maintaining fundamental principles of democracy, including supporting free speech and secularism, its remarks on India shed light on the rising levels of intolerance in the country. .
Attacks on minorities
The report notes that India has become a “dangerous and violent space for Muslim minorities”.
In December 2019, the Indian government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act which allowed the Indian government to grant citizenship to migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan who are Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian and are arrived in India before the end of December 2014. The law was not extended to the Muslims of the three countries, all with a Muslim majority.
The government has also stated its intentions to implement the National Register of Indian Citizens which would allow the Indian government to identify and deport illegal immigrants. Associated with AAC, many critics believed the laws had the potential to be used to control and discriminate against India’s religious minorities.
The year saw an increasing number of cases of attacks on minorities. As anti-CAA protests in north-east Delhi culminated in sectarian violence in February, the start of the coronavirus pandemic was also intertwined with widespread Islamophobia after the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi’s Nizamuddin became a COVID-19 access point.
More recently, the implementation and arrests under a new anti-conversion law in Uttar Pradesh have been described as “Islamophobic” by critics for targeting Muslim men for “love jihad”.
Attacks by human rights defenders
The report also notes that Indian civil society actors, which include human rights lawyers, activists, protesters, academics, journalists, liberal intellectuals, are “increasingly attacked” for speaking out against “government excesses and majoritarianism” .
Human rights defenders in India have been increasingly attacked for “protesting discriminatory laws and practices that have suffered from restrictions, violence, criminal defamation, detention and harassment”.
The findings come in the wake of the growing number of arrests under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, or UAPA. The controversial law, often dubbed “draconian” by critics, who believe the law is being used to gag dissent in the nation.
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The report also notes an increase in media censorship. It notes the temporary bans on two channels based in Kerala for being “” critical of the Delhi police and RSS “” for its coverage of the Delhi riots.
In April of this year, India lost two places on a global press freedom index, ranking 142 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ annual review.