The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has said that religious freedom in India had “significantly worsened” during 2021 as approximately one-third of India’s 28 states limit or prohibit religious conversion, in violation of global human rights treaties.
“In 2021, religious freedom conditions in India significantly worsened. During the year, the Indian government escalated its promotion and enforcement of policies—including those promoting a Hindu-nationalist agenda—that negatively affect Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and other religious minorities,” according to the USCIRF, a US federal government commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
The report observed that the Indian government continued to systemize its ideological vision of a Hindu state at both the national and state levels through the use of both existing and new laws and structural changes hostile to the country’s religious minorities,” the report observed.
It highlighted that the features of the anti-conversion laws promulgated in 12 states in India violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“The anti-conversion laws also worsen religious freedom conditions in India which, as USCIRF has reported, are already poor. Such laws enable and embolden existing government harassment, vigilante violence, and discrimination against religious minorities, as well as crackdowns on civil society organizations.” the report said.
It observed that the enforcement of state-level anti-conversion laws suggested intent of the legislations was to prevent conversions to disfavored religions – such as Christianity and Islam – and not to protect against coerced conversions.
It said that in some states, the requirement of a district magistrate’s public call for objection to a conversion constituted coercively impairing an individual’s freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief.”
The anti-conversion laws of Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh also call the individuals accused of violating an anti-conversion law to prove their innocence which violated both UDHR and ICCPR.
It said the government action, including the continued enforcement of anti-conversion laws against non-Hindus, had created a culture of impunity for nationwide campaigns of threats and violence by mobs and vigilante groups, including against Muslims and Christians accused of conversion activities.
In its report, the Commission called for imposing targeted sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ or entities’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States.
It also urged the US Congress to raise religious freedom issues in the US-India bilateral relationship and highlight concerns through hearings, briefings, letters, and congressional delegations.
India’s state-level anti-conversion laws share three common features: prohibitions on conversions, notice requirements, and burden-shifting provisions. “Each of the three features is inconsistent with international human rights law’s protections for freedom of religion or belief,” the report added.
The Commission said that repealing India’s state-level anti-conversion laws was necessary to comply with international human rights law for the right to freedom of religion or belief and to help prevent the country’s religious freedom conditions from further deteriorating.—APP