December 4, 2023

Md Nazrul: Every year, December 18 is observed as the Minorities Rights Day to uphold the right to freedom and equal opportunities for the ethnic minorities in India and create awareness about the respect and dignity of the minorities.
What has happened in India?
Several human rights violations are alleged to have taken place in India in recent years. This includes the introduction of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the removal of constitutional autonomy in Jammu and Kashmir. Such incidents have led to growing concern about the protection of certain groups in the country, including religious minorities. The following section provides an overview of some of these developments.
Jammu and Kashmir
In August 2019, the Indian Government revoked article 370 of the Indian Constitution. This removed constitutional autonomy from the state of Jammu and Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim region. Article 370 had several functions, including providing the state with autonomy over its own constitution and freedoms to make laws.
The removal of article 370 led to unrest in Jammu and Kashmir. This saw Indian troops deployed, phone and internet services shut down, and certain politicians and public figures arrested.
The Indian Government said that the article’s removal would help to bring development to the region. However, critics argued that the Government wanted to change the demographic of the Muslim-majority in the region by enabling non-Kashmiris to buy land in the state.
A 2018 report by the previous UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, urged the UN Human Rights Council to consider commissioning an investigation into the alleged human rights violations in Kashmir. In October 2018, the UK Government commented on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report in Parliament:
We very much take note of former high commissioner Zeid’s presentation to the Human Rights Council in June [2018] and the clear recommendations for the Governments of India and Pakistan. We hope that those will be adhered to.
Violence against the Dalit community
Incidences of violence against the Dalit community have been reported in India for several years. In 2020, protests commenced following the gang rape and subsequent death of a 19 year-old women in the state of Uttar Pradesh. This was one of several violent incidents reported to have taken place against members of the Dalit community.
Dalits are described as being the “lowest rung” of India’s Hindu caste system. The caste system is one of the world’s oldest forms of social stratification. It divided Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups based on their work and religion. Whilst the Indian constitution has since banned discrimination on the basis of caste, caste identities are described by the BBC as remaining strong.
Other incidents against religious minorities
Hate crimes against Christians in India are reported to have risen in 2020. Several charities have argued that state cooperation with extremists is a key cause of the problem.
The Christian advocacy group Open Doors published a report in June 2021 on the issue. Key findings in the report said that:
Daily life for many Christian and Muslim communities in urban and rural India has become an excruciating struggle to earn a living and practice their faith, while also remaining alive and under the radar of the far-right Hindutva organizations that now dominate the Indian public and political sphere.
Farmers’ protests and agricultural reform
In September 2020, the Indian Parliament passed agricultural reform laws. Amongst other things, the laws would have changed the rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce. The Indian Government have been cited by the BBC as saying that the new agricultural laws were necessary to increase farm incomes and productivity. However, the laws were met with concern, particularly from farmers, farmers’ unions, and the political opposition. This led to several months of widespread protests in India where it is reported that more than 400 protestors died.
In addition, the protests also saw the arrest of several journalists who were covering the protests. Human Rights Watch called on Indian authorities to drop what they described as “baseless charges” against journalists. Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said that the Indian authorities’ response to protests had “focused on discrediting peaceful protesters, harassing critics of the government, and prosecuting those reporting on the events”. The agricultural reform laws were subsequently suspended following a ruling by the Indian Supreme Court in January 2021. In February 2021, the UK Government spoke of its support for the right to peaceful protest and freedom of speech. It also noted that “governments have the power to enforce law and order if a protest crosses the line into illegality”. It committed to following the farmers’ protests closely and said it would continue to champion human rights globally.

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