United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a governmental body has called for designating India as a country of particular concern for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). In the latest report of 2023, USCIRF states that the Indian government promoted and enforced religiously discriminatory policies, including laws targeting religious conversion, interfaith relationships, wearing of hijabs and cow slaughter, which negatively impact Muslims, Christians, Sikhs,
Dalits, and Adivasis (indigenous peoples and scheduled tribes). Indian government invoked the UAPA and the Sedition Act throughout the year to target freedom of religion and expression, creating an increasing climate of intimidation and fear. Authorities surveilled, harassed, detained, and prosecuted a number of journalists, lawyers, rights activists, and religious minorities advocating for religious freedom. Hundreds of cases remained pending against individuals for involvement in the 2019 peaceful protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). As of 2022, only 92 of more than 700 cases had reached trial, and many of those arrested under the UAPA continued to languish in jail. During India’s fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR), UN member states emphasized protections for religious minorities and expressed concern over the broad application of India’s “anti-terror” laws. The continued enforcement of discriminatory laws facilitated a culture of impunity for widespread campaigns of threats and violence by mobs and vigilante groups. In March, for example, Karnataka’s state government issued a hijab ban in public schools.
India’s state governments also continued to pass and enforce anti-conversion laws, currently existing in 12 states, including legislation in multiple states aimed to prohibit and criminalize interfaith marriages. Violent attacks were also perpetrated across India under the justification of protecting cows from slaughter or transport, which is illegal in 18 states. Examples of violence against Christians, Muslims, and Dalits around suspicions of cow smuggling were reported in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi. In August, BJP member Gyan Dev Ahuja was recorded publicly calling for his listeners to “kill anyone involved in cow slaughter.” Throughout the year, the destruction of property—including places of worship in predominantly Muslim and Christian neighborhoods—continued. In June, local authorities demolished the homes of three Muslim families in Uttar Pradesh following protests against derogatory language used by members of the BJP. Hindu nationalists bulldozed a Catholic center near Mangalore in February and attacked, looted and destroyed the homes of hundreds of Christians in December for their refusal to convert to Hinduism.
In addition, at least four madrasas (Islamic seminaries) were demolished following a statement in May from the Chief Minister of Assam that madrasas should be eliminated. Social media platforms continued to facilitate widespread disinformation, hate speech, and incitement of violence toward religious minorities.