Indian leader boasts of tolerance amid growing persecution

Persecution | Analysts say prime minister’s failure to protect religious minorities contradicts his promises
by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 5/15/17, 12:32 pm

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi often affirms religious freedom in meetings and public statements, but experts say his actions speak louder than his words.

Last week, Muslim leaders met with Modi to discuss their concerns following several killings. Just days earlier, a Hindu mob in Assam accused two Muslims of stealing cows for slaughter and killed the men.

“One of the main issues in our meeting was the perceived fear among Muslims across the country. I told him that you are the prime minister of the entire country and no citizen, irrespective of the religion, should feel unsafe,” Maulana Qari Syed Mohammad Usman, president of the Organization of Indian Islamic Scholars, told The Hindustan Times.

Modi told them his government treats everyone equally: “We don’t believe in any prejudice on the basis of religion or caste.” The prime minister agreed to set up a special committee to listen to Muslim grievances.

A little more than 14 percent of India’s people are Muslim. They do the majority of cattle raising, selling, and slaughtering because many Hindus consider cows sacred. Some Indian states even forbid killing the animals.

Despite his rhetoric, experts who monitor India say Modi’s actions show he is no friend to religious minorities. During Modi’s tenure, persecution against Muslims and Christians has increased.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted similar attacks on Muslims took place in April. Hindus have killed at least 10 Muslims over the treatment of cows since 2015—a rate that increased during the rule of Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“Self-appointed cow protectors are increasingly conducting raids and attacks, claiming the police don’t take adequate action against those slaughtering cows. There have been numerous incidents in which they have allegedly assaulted, harassed, threatened, and extorted money from Muslims and Dalits,” HRW reported. The group called on India’s government to investigate and prosecute those responsible, instead of blaming the victims.

In 2016, Modi said the vigilante cow protectors known as gau-rakshaks angered him, but he took no action to stop them.

Persecution of Christians is also worsening, in spite of Modi’s claims to the contrary. International Christian Concern (ICC) found 361 separate instances of Christian persecution in India last year. 

ICC regional manager William Stark called it “disturbing” that many pastors in India are afraid to walk down the street holding a Bible and that churchgoers won’t tell their neighbors where they are going—all while Modi claims religious freedom is a “cornerstone” of Indian society.

Modi’s actions contradict his claims that India is secular and religious minorities are protected, Stark said. He cited the appointment of former Hindu priest Yodi Adityanath to chief minister for Uttar Pradesh as a primary example.

Adityanath is known for “fiery Hindu rhetoric” and speaking out against Muslim minorities in particular, according to Al Jazeera. A group he belongs to claimed Christian services forcibly convert people to Christianity and, according to the New Indian Express, led a “purification drive” forcing people to return to Hinduism.

Modi’s government also has denied visas to religious freedom investigators, and Reporters Without Borders recently downgraded India over threats to journalists and growing self-censorship.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia worked in communications in the Washington, D.C., area from 2005 to 2019 and was a fall 2012 participant in the WORLD Journalism Institute mid-career class. She relocated to Denver in 2019. Follow Julia on Twitter @SteakandaBible.

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