Religious tolerance is steadily deteriorating in India and violations of freedom of religion are rising, a new report has found.
Sponsored by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), ‘Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India’ examined state laws across the nation and found that, while India’s constitution guarantees equal rights to religious minorities, laws enacted locally belie this and adversely affect all but the Hindu majority.
“Religious minority communities and Dalits, both have faced discrimination and persecution due to a combination of overly broad or ill-defined laws, an inefficient criminal justice system, and a lack of jurisprudential consistency,” the report states.
Referring by way of example to the Indian Divorce Act 2001, the report points out that this legislation not only restricts inheritance rights and property ownership for people of inter-faith marriages, it “also interferes in the personal lives of Christians by not allowing marriage ceremonies to be conducted in a church if one of the partners is non-Christian”.
Launching the Indian report, Fr Thomas J. Reese, chair of USCIRF said, “India faces serious challenges to both its pluralistic traditions and its religious minorities.” He called on the government there to revise “problematic” laws so as to bring them into line with both the constitution and international human rights.
The report comes in the wake of the revelation that anti-Christian attacks in India ran at 10 per week across 2016, making the nation the 15th worst country in which to be a Christian, according to the World Watch List compiled by the Open Doors watchdog.
Reporting on the World Watch List in January, The Irish Catholic pointed out that India’s placement represented a jump from 31st over just a four-year period, corresponding to the rise of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Rejecting the findings of the USCIRF report, a spokesperson for India’s External Affairs Ministry was quoted as stating, “we have serious doubts on their credibility...We take no cognisance of their report”.
‘Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India’ can be viewed at www.uscirf.gov