It did not get great publicity but a recent U.N. report on religious freedom in India offers a stinging image of a country suffering from communal divisions and mob-inspired religious persecution. It argues there is a very real risk of a repeat of a tragedy like the Gujarat riots of 2002, when more than 2,000 people, mainly Muslims,were killed by Hindu mobs.
The U.S. Special Rapporteur of religion or belief Asma Jahangir, a well-respected Pakistani human rights activist, travelled to India last March to prepare the report. It catalogues violence and discrimination faced by India’s religious minorities, whether Muslim or Christian or Sikh.
“Organised groups claiming roots in religious ideologies have unleashed all pervasive fear of mob violence in many parts of the country.” the report, released on Jan. 26, says.
“There is at present a real risk that similar communal violence might happen again unless political exploitation of communal distinctions is effectively prevented,”
The report makes special mention of Gujarat,. It says the Hindu nationalist state government of Gujarat — headed by Narendra Modi and a favourite of many Indian business leaders—has done little to help victims who still live in fear of persecution.
Indeed, it says there is “is increasing ghettoization andisolation of Muslims in certain areas of Gujarat.”
The report comes after a series of incidents in India that have sparked widespread worries about the rise of religious mob violence.
Last month Hindu militants attacked a bar and assaulted women in the city of Mangalore in the Hindu nationalist-run Karnataka state. The militants – labelled the “Indian Taleban” by media – said they were trying to safeguard Indian culture.
Last year, dozens of mainly poor tribal Christians in the eastern state of Orissa were killed by Hindu mobs over the issues of religious conversion.
With general elections due by May, the political atmosphere is already charged with religious rhetoric. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party says it wants to rebuild a Hindu temple on Ayodhya, where a mosque was razed by Hindu mobs in 1992.
The report is a timely reminder that despite all the talk of a global India, religious tension may be as pervasive as ever — especially when political parties are vying for political power.
February 11 2009, Alistair Scrutton,Reuters
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