Human Rights Watch Report On Indian Fascism

April 9, 2020

India: Protests, Attacks Over New Citizenship Law

Muslims Face Discriminatory Policies; Protesters Targeted

Avideo emerged from India in February 2020 showing five grievously injured men lying on the street being beaten by several policemen and forced to sing the Indian national anthem. The video was filmed on February 24 in Kardampuri, a neighborhood in northeast Delhi. One of the men, Faizan, a 23-year-old Muslim, died from his injuries two days later.

At least 52 more people were killed in the three days of communal violence that broke out in India’s capital. Over 200 were injured, properties destroyed, and communities displaced in targeted attacks by Hindu mobs. While a policeman and some Hindus were also killed, the majority of victims were Muslim.

Muslims in India have been increasingly at risk since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was first elected in 2014. Faizan died in a carnage amidst rising communal tensions in the country. On December 12, 2019, the Modi administration achieved passage of the discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA). Under the act, for the first time in India, religion is a basis for granting citizenship. The law specifically fast-tracks asylum claims of non-Muslim irregular immigrants from the neighboring Muslim-majority countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. The amended citizenship law, coupled with the government’s push for a nationwide citizenship verification process through a National Population Register (NPR) and a proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), aimed at identifying “illegal migrants,” has led to fears that millions of Indian Muslims, including many families who have lived in the country for generations, could be stripped of their citizenship rights and disenfranchised.

Throughout the country, Indians of all faiths have protested peacefully against the law, singing songs, reciting poetry, and reading aloud from the constitution, which commits to secularism and equality. The iconic image of these protests was at Shaheen Bagh, a Muslim-majority neighborhood in Delhi. Since it first began on December 15, the protest, which was led by local women, drew civil society support from across the country. It also provoked the ire of the ruling BJP, with some of its leaders deriding the protesters or more dangerously calling them anti-national and pro-Pakistan. Some have described the protesters as “Pakistani hooligans,” others led a chant to “shoot the traitors,” inciting violence. On February 1, 2020, a man fired two shots in the air near the protest site. On March 24, authorities asked the protesters to disperse following the outbreak of Coronavirus and calls for a lockdown to contain its spread.

Since the Modi administration first took office, BJP leaders have repeatedly made Hindu nationalist and anti-Muslim remarks in their speeches and interviews. These have, at times, encouraged and even incited violent attacks by party supporters who believe they have political protection and approval. They have beaten Muslim men for dating Hindu women. Mobs affiliated to the BJP have, since 2015, killed and injured scores of members of religious minorities amid rumors that they traded or killed cows for beef. In February 2019, BJP supporters threatened and beat several Kashmiri Muslim students and traders, apparently to avenge a militant attack on a security forces convoy.

Government policy has also reflected bias against Muslims. Since October 2018, Indian authorities have deported over a dozen Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar despite the risks to their lives and security. After winning a second term in May 2019, the government revoked the constitutional autonomy of India’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, and, anticipating protests, deployed additional troops, detained thousands, and cut off phone and internet connections. The police have failed to intervene when BJP supporters engage in speech inciting violence or mob attacks but are quick to arrest critics of the government.

During protests against the citizenship law, there was a similarly partisan response. In many cases, when BJP-affiliated groups attacked protesters, the police did not intervene. However, in BJP-governed states in December, police used excessive and unnecessary lethal force, killing at least 30 people during protests and injuring scores more. In Delhi in February, some policemen actively participated in the mob attacks on Muslims.

The government’s Hindu nationalist and anti-Muslim policies have touched off protests not just in India but abroad. The government crackdown on the protests in India raised further outcries. The United States, the European Union, and the United Nations secretariat have all called on the Modi government to scrap its discriminatory policies. Following the COVID-19 outbreak, Indian authorities said the citizenship verification plans had been indefinitely postponed.

Read More: