NEW DELHI: The United States State Department released it annual International Religious Freedom report on Tuesday, drawing specific attention to increased attacks on minorities in a section focusing on India. “Authorities frequently did not prosecute members of vigilante “cow protection” groups who attacked alleged smugglers, consumers, or traders of beef, usually Muslims, despite an increase in attacks compared to previous years. Courts also issued decisions on several long-standing cases related to religiously motivated violence and riots. Christian and Muslim activists stated the government was not doing enough to protect them against religiously motivated attacks. The government filed a Supreme Court petition challenging the minority status of Muslim educational institutions, which affords the institutions independence in hiring and curriculum decisions. Some nationalist political leaders advocated for the country to be declared a Hindu state,” the report states.

“There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism, and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytize. There was an increase in violent incidents by cow protection groups against mostly Muslim victims, including killings, mob violence, assaults, and intimidation. Hindus threatened and assaulted Muslims and Christians and destroyed their property. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), there were more than 300 incidents of abuse targeting Christians during the year, compared with 177 in 2015. Incidents included assaults on missionaries, forced conversions of non-Hindus, and attacks on churches, schools, and private property. Administrators at some Muslim and Christian schools and graveyards denied their facilities to interreligious couples or their children. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) reported 751 conflicts between religious communities, which resulted in 97 deaths and 2,264 injuries in 2015,” it notes.

Referring directly to government practices, the report states that “authorities often failed to prosecute violence by cow protection groups against persons, mostly Muslims, suspected of slaughtering or illegally transporting cows or trading in or consuming beef.”

“Members of civil society expressed concerns that, under the BJP government, religious minority communities felt vulnerable due to Hindu nationalist groups engaging in violence against non-Hindu individuals and places of worship. Religious minority communities stated that, while the national government sometimes spoke out against incidents of violence, local political leaders often did not, which left victims and minority religious communities feeling vulnerable,” the report states.

“There were reports of hundreds of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, restrictions on the right to practice religion and proselytize, discrimination, and attacks against property. Groups most frequently targeted were Muslims and Christians. Cow protection groups, many of whose members believed cow slaughter and eating beef were an attack on the Hindu deities representing motherhood, carried out an increasing number of violent attacks, including killings, beatings, harassment, and intimidations, against consumers of beef or those involved in the beef industry,” it notes.

The report records examples of such violence. It states:

“According to the MHA 2015-16 Annual Report, 751 communal incidents (defined by authorities as violent conflicts involving religious communities on the issues of organizing religious congregations, desecration of religious symbols, and the ownership of community properties and facilities) took place in 2015, resulting in 97 deaths and 2,264 injuries. Although MHA stated there were no major outbreaks of communal violence in the country in 2015, statistics showed an increase in overall instances of communal violence reported compared to the previous year when the MHA recorded 644 communal incidents, resulting in 95 deaths and 1,921 injuries.

EFI reported more than 300 attacks against Christians or their churches during the year, compared to 177 in 2015. Incidents included assaults on religious workers and attacks on Christian churches, private property, and missionary schools and institutions. According to EFI, local police seldom provided protection, did not accept complaints, and rarely investigated incidents.

On March 18, villagers of Jhabar in Jharkhand’s Latehar District found the dead bodies of Muslim cattle traders Mohammad Majloom and Inayatullah Khan hanging from a tree. Police arrested five men, including one linked to a cow protection group.

On April 17, there was a violent altercation between Hindus and Muslims in Hazaribagh, a town in Jharkhand State. Media outlets reported a Hindu Ram Navami festival procession played recorded slogans while passing through a predominantly Muslim neighborhood, which the neighborhood’s residents found objectionable. According to media reports, in the ensuing violence, three people were killed and six injured, while 30 shops – most of them belonging to Muslims – were burned. Police arrested approximately 25 individuals.

On April 2, the body of a man missing for a month was found in Kurukshetra in Haryana. The victim’s father accused four members of a cow protection group, and the Haryana High Court ordered a CBI probe.

On August 18, Mangalore Catholic Diocese members said supporters of Hindu nationalist group Jagrana Vedike attacked and killed a Hindu, Praveen Poojary, in Karnataka State’s Udupi district, while he was transporting calves, which the attackers believed he was going to slaughter. Police arrested 18 individuals for the killing and were investigating the incident at year’s end.

On August 25, according to press reports, a group of armed members of a cow protection group in Haryana State beat a Muslim man and his wife to death and raped the man’s adult niece and her 14-year-old cousin. The adult victim said her attackers told her they were being raped because they ate meat. A two-member delegation of the NCM visited the area where the attack took place and supported the reports that cow protection groups played a role in the attack. Authorities charged four suspects with rape and murder. The case was pending at year’s end.

On September 16, a Muslim man died from injuries sustained from a beating by a mob who suspected he was carrying two calves for slaughter for Eid al-Adha. The Ahmedabad police registered complaints against the victim for “illegally ferrying animals” and against the attackers. The police filed charges against the victim before he died and against three of the alleged attackers for murder. The case against the accused killers remained pending at year’s end.

On September 20, police in Thane, Maharashtra State arrested a Muslim man, Shafiq Shamsuddin, for killing his cousin, Sufiya Mansuri, and her Hindu husband, Vijay Yadavat their residence. Shamsuddin was opposed to their interfaith marriage.

On March 23, a Pune court in Maharashtra State rejected the bail plea of Sameer Gaikwad, a member of Hindu nationalist group Sanatan Sanstha, who was arrested on charges of killing antisuperstition activist Govind Pansare on February 20, 2015. The trial had yet to begin at year’s end.

On April 17, a Hindu attacked a Protestant Christian pastor and his pregnant wife, and tried to set them on fire in Bastar, Chhattisgarh.

On December 14, online magazine Horizon Asia reported 30 youths armed with sticks and batons beat a group of 20 Catholics (mostly women and children), including a parish priest, while the Catholics were returning from a carol service in Tikariya village in Rajasthan. The attackers reportedly chanted slogans of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” (Victory to Mother India). No arrests were reported.

On January 17, EFI reported a group of Hindus beat a Christian missionary for giving a Bible to a Hindu in Tamil Nadu State’s Erode District. The Hindu had reportedly asked for the Bible. In a separate incident on the same day in Tamil Nadu’s Theni District, assailants attacked a Pentecostal pastor with knives and sickles while he was conducting a prayer service, according to NGO Barnabas Aid. Police opened an investigation but had made no arrests by year’s end.

On January 28, Human Rights Forum of Coimbatore, an NGO that investigates and assists victims of human rights violations, reported a group of young men attacked a Catholic priest working for Assissi Snehalaya, a home for people with AIDS near Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu State. In a separate incident on the same day, unidentified individuals attacked three employees of Assissi Snehalaya. Police arrested two persons in connection with the first attack, who were subsequently released on bail. In the second incident, police charged five individuals, who fled and remained at large at year’s end. Investigations remained ongoing at year’s end.

On March 6, Chhattisgarh police arrested nine people after they attacked a Protestant congregation in the village of Kachna, disrupted the congregation’s prayer service, and vandalized their church. There were reports of minor injuries.

On July 26, two women were injured after members of a cow protection group beat them outside a railway station in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh State, after police arrested them for beef possession. Video by a spectator showed police taking no action during the beatings, which reportedly lasted close to half an hour. The women possessed 30 kilos of buffalo meat, which is not illegal. After tests determined the meat was buffalo and not beef, authorities charged the women with possessing the meat without a permit. Police arrested four men accused of assaulting the Muslim women. Authorities took no action against the police who stood by while the women were beaten.

In August the Chhattisgarh State Catholic Council held a press conference and made a public statement expressing concern over what the council said were increasing attacks on the community and its institutions, and the leveling of false charges of forced conversions and beef possession against Christians.

On February 20, 65 members of a Hindu nationalist group, Shivaji Jayanti Mandal, assaulted a Muslim police official, forced him to hoist a saffron flag – frequently a symbol of nationalist groups – and paraded him through Pangaon, Maharashtra State. The assault took place the day after police prevented the raising of the saffron flag to mark Shivaji Jayanti, a Hindu holiday, in a neighborhood with historically tense interfaith relationships. The police officer called his station for reinforcements, but they did not arrive in time to stop the attack. Police arrested 46 people in connection with the incident; their trial remained pending at year’s end.

On March 18, according to a media report that quoted police officials, unknown persons burned down a makeshift Christian prayer hall in Nizamabad District of Telangana State. The report stated that, prior to the arson, a mob attacked a local pastor and members of his congregation for allegedly trying to convert Hindus to Christianity. The attack on the pastor and congregation resulted in the hospitalization of six persons, including a four-year-old girl. A Telangana Rashtra Samithi MP representing the area, K. Kavita, dismissed any communal dimension to the incident and described it as an “accident.”

On March 28, a member of a cow protection group stopped a truck carrying buffalo tallow on the Rupnagar-Kurali road in Punjab State and beat the driver, Balkar Singh. Singh was charged under a Punjabi law that restricts the slaughter of buffalo without a permit. His attacker was not charged.

On May 6, three cow protection group members beat a man in Sohna, Haryana State on suspicion that he was carrying beef. A fourth man recorded the beating while the others threatened the victim with a gun. According to press reports, authorities were investigating a complaint against the victim, but not his attackers.

On June 10, cow protection group members force-fed a cow-dung mixture to two men after intercepting them while transporting beef in Faridabad, Haryana State. A court sentenced the two men to jail for smuggling beef; the length of their sentence was pending at year’s end. Authorities filed no charges against the attackers.

On July 31, cow protection group members beat a man for allegedly slaughtering cows in Muktsar District, Punjab. Authorities charged the man under the state’s cow slaughter law. There were no charges against the attackers.

On May 31, a cow protection group seized seven men in Pratapgarh, Rajasthan for transporting 96 water buffalo in two trucks. A crowd of 100-150, which reportedly included members of Bajrang Dal, beat the three truck occupants, set the trucks on fire, and attacked police when they tried to intervene. Police arrested the two truck drivers and one attacker. Buffalo transport and slaughter in Rajashtan is legal.

On September 23, Muslim leaders in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu State said members of VHP damaged shops of Muslim traders after accusing four men of killing their leader, C. Sasi Kumar. VHP members attacked the shops when Kumar’s body was taken to a crematorium. Media reported the VHP members entered the majority-Muslim area of Kottaimedu and threw stones. A photojournalist who witnessed the incidents said VHP workers threw stones at every shop on Cross Cut Road in Coimbatore during the funeral procession. Police made no arrests. Media reported that, on the same day, individuals, who many believed were VHP members, threw a Molotov cocktail at a mosque in Rathina Sabapathi Puram in Coimbatore.

According to EFI’s Hate and Targeted Violence report, on June 21, Hindu extremist groups threatened Pastor Shiv Dutt from the Brethren Assembly Billawar Church and told him to stop worship and prayer meetings in the Ramkote village of Kathua District in Jammu and Kashmir State.

On June 4, in New Delhi, EFI reported that a crowd of nearly 40 Hindus surrounded a vacation Bible school program for youth led by Pastor Rajpal Yadav. With nearly 200 students inside, the group shouted anti-Christian slogans and vandalized the venue. Police detained the pastor and an aide for what the pastor said was their protection.

A July report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) cited harassment and threats of violence as the reasons for a mass migration of Hindu families from the Muslim majority city of Kairana, Uttar Pradesh State. There was an inflow of Muslim residents to Kairana after they were displaced by anti-Muslim violence in Uttar Pradesh in 2013. The NHRC report followed statements by BJP MP Hukam Singh, citing the exodus of Hindus from Kairana because of criminal activity by Muslim migrants. According to the NHRC report, 346 Hindu families were displaced. Citing 24 witnesses, the NHRC attributed the migration of Hindu families to the actions of Muslims, including taunting and shouting lewd remarks. After an inquiry, however, the Shamli District Administration, where Kairana is located, reported that of the 346 Hindu families the NHRC said had been displaced, 66 families had left Kairana more than 10 years earlier and 188 families had left more than five years earlier. Human rights activists acting on behalf of the Muslim community in Kairana, such as Harsh Mander, disputed the NHRC’s findings that Hindus had been driven out by Muslim crime and called on the NHRC to withdraw and apologize for the report, which the human rights activists stated had been used to spread prejudice against the Muslim community.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Hyderabad complained of intimidation by other Muslim groups that considered the Ahmadis apostates. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community representatives stated that other Muslim groups often prevented them from organizing public meetings, even after they obtained police permits.

On January 29, Catholic Archbishop Leo Comelio of Bhopal stated anticonversion legislation was misused in Madhya Pradesh to falsely accuse Christians of forced conversions.

According to a May 15 media report, police averted a clash between two groups in Keonjhar District in Odisha following Hindu protests against conversion of the local residents to Christianity by “force” or “allurement.” The protestors alleged that pastors from the neighboring state of Jharkhand were encouraging conversions with financial inducements and the conversions had led to rifts within families.

Read the full report here.

Part two here.

(Cover photo: Protester at the #NotInMyName rally in India)