BeyondHeadlines News Desk
Morton Grove, IL : The Alliance for Justice And Accountability (AJA), a coalition of progressive organizations across the United States, today urged the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), to move India into Tier 1 of “Countries of Particular Concern,” on account of the continuing deterioration in the human rights and religious freedom situation in India.
USCIRF had recently issued a statement, condemning the brutal and merciless lynching of Tabrez Ansari in the Indian state of Jharkhand. While the AJA coalition welcomes USCIRF’s statement on a shameful and inhuman murder of a young man on the basis of his religious identity, we believe the US needs to take a stronger stance on the rapid intensification of violence against religious minorities and “lower” castes in India. The first step would be to acknowledge the fact that the state of religious freedom in India at this point has reached a new low, far below the levels of Tier 2 where India had been placed by the USCIRF even before the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gained power in the national elections of 2014.
Tabrez Ansari’s mob lynching is particularly nerve-wracking since the beating, caught on videotape, continued for about 12 hours, at the end of which police took the victim into custody. He was taken to hospital only after 4 days, where he died of his injuries. The fact that the state was complicit in Ansari’s lynching is clear from reports that the police threatened the family with a similar fate when they begged for Ansari to be given medical attention. In the jail, the family found the main perpetrator of the violence berating Ansari, asking why he was not dead yet despite the severe beatings. While eleven villagers have been arrested, past incidents of mob lynching do not instill confidence in the prospect of justice being served.
Ansari happens to be the 11th victim of mob lynching in India this year. “According to web portal lynch.factchecker.in, cow protection was the most common excuse for attacks triggered by religious hate since 2014, with 77 such hate crimes being reported in the last five years,” said Dr Shaik Ubaid, a coalition leader. “Overall, 124 cow-related hate crimes were recorded between May 24, 2014 and April 30, 2019,” added Dr Ubaid.
“The inhumanity of the mob that beat Tabrez for hours, forced him to chant Hindu slogans and circulated the video of the beating on social media is undoubtedly shocking. However, the complicity of law enforcement and the lack of outrage in large sections of the Indian polity, is a sign that India’s descent into fascism is rapidly accelerating, ” said Mr Umang Kumar, a coalition constituent.
Activists in India are rightly alarmed about what the future portends with hateful rhetoric occupying so much of the national discourse. Indian social activist Harsh Mander is a founding member of Karwan-e-Mohabbat (“Caravan of Love”), a solidarity campaign for victims of hate violence, including lynchings. Mr Mander recently stated, “An environment has been created across the country that enables and encourages this kind of violence.”
The BJP’s landslide victory in the recent polls has emboldened Hindu supremacist groups in India to carry out mob lynchings against minorities and Dalits. In many cases, victims are targeted for reasons as varied as suspicion of possessing beef, protesting against caste discrimination or simply for their religious or caste identity. Last week a Dalit deputy “sarpanch” (village head) was beaten to death by upper caste men in Gujarat. This was the third such incident in that region in less than a month.
AJA has also noted with alarm, the direct assault on civil society in the form of the ruling party’s vendetta against whistleblowers and human rights activists. Sanjiv Bhatt, the IPS police officer who reported having been at a meeting where Mr Modi gave the green signal for the pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, was recently sentenced to life imprisonment in a 30 year old case of custodial death. The entire case and his eventual conviction is widely seen as the ruling party’s payback for Mr Bhat speaking truth to power.
The Alliance for Justice and Accountability has pledged to work with people of all faiths to defend India from the onslaught of hate and divisiveness.