On int’l day for victims of religion-based violence, gov’t rejects charge that minorities facing attacks in country.
NEW DELHI (AA) – As the Indian government persistently rejects reports of rising religious persecution in the country, activists say violent incidents against minorities have surged over the past few years.
The Pew Research Center, a Washington-based think tank, recently calculated that India has the highest level of social hostilities regarding religion among the world’s 25 most populous countries.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency ahead of the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence on Religious Belief, being observed on Sunday, Mohammad Shoaib, president of Rihai Manch, a civil society group, said with elections approaching in India’s largest province of Uttar Pradesh (UP), there are attempts to fuel tensions.
“Assembly elections will be held in Uttar Pradesh early next year and what we are seeing is that such incidents have increased in the last few months. The reason for this is that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wants to polarize people on religious grounds before the elections,” he said.
Niaz Ahmed Farooqui, secretary of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, the country’s largest and oldest socio-religious group of Muslims, alleged that police round up Muslim youth and they spend years in prisons before being acquitted by courts.
“They (Muslim youth) are acquitted by courts later, but who will compensate them for the time spent in prison, loss of jobs, livelihoods, and the social stigma associated with the arrest?” he said.
In June this year, the Anti-Terrorism Wing (ATS) of the UP police arrested two Muslim religious leaders on charges of converting Hindus to Islam.
One of them, Mohammad Umar Gautam, was born into a Hindu family and embraced Islam in 1984.
According to the police, Gautam and Mufti Qazi Jahangir Alam Qasmi were using promises of money, jobs, and arranged marriages to convert students with hearing and speech impairments and people from lower income groups.
“The religious leaders we arrested had converted many Hindu girls and got them married off. We have information about more than 100 such girls,” said GK Goswami, chief of the ATS.
No proof of forced conversion
A close aide of Gautam, however, told Anadolu Agency on the condition of anonymity that many people who wanted to convert to Islam had approached him for help and guidance on the procedures.
After converting to Islam, Gautam became a preacher and set up the Islami Dawa Center in the capital New Delhi.
A police officer, who refused to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media, said there was no proof of any forced conversion by Gautam and his team.
Investigations were launched after the family of a deaf Hindu youth from UP’s Kanpur district complained that their son, who had been in contact with Gautam, was forcibly converted to Islam.
While India’s Constitution permits anyone to adopt, practice, and propagate the religion of their choice, at least nine Indian states have now adopted laws to make conversion difficult.
According to data from a 2011 census, 79.80% of the population of India is Hindu, 14.23% Muslim, 2.30% Christian, 1.72% Sikh, 0.70% Buddhist, and 0.37% Jain.
Last year’s annual report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom identified India as a “country of particular concern.”
‘Bias against India’
The government, however, has shot down such reports and described them as biased against the country.
Mohsin Raza, the lone Muslim minister in the UP government, rejected the notion that religious persecution was on the rise in the state.
“The government of (UP Chief Minister) Yogi Adityanath has been working for the development of all and would never allow persecution of any community,” said Raza, the minority welfare minister.
“The UP government has announced many developmental projects for minorities. If anything, ours is a state where minorities feel more secure.”