Activists criticize restrictions on foreign funding of NGOs and violation of religious minority rights.
A new law criminalizing inter-religious marriages in India’s Uttar Pradesh state on grounds of “unlawful religious conversions” is discriminatory and impacts religious freedom, according to a US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) official.
Nicknamed ‘Love Jihad’ law “it often results in violence and [abets] efforts to prohibit interfaith marriages using the false narrative of false conversions,” Niala Mohammad, senior policy analyst, USCIRF, said at a Congressional briefing in Washington, DC, last week.
The law was “particularly concerning not just for its discriminatory purpose but also because of its vague and… potentially wide-reaching impacts on religious freedoms in the state,” she was quoted as saying by Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC).
Titled “State Repression on Civil Liberties in Uttar Pradesh,” the briefing was attended by policy staff of members of US Congress and officials from the State Department, among others, according to an IAMC press release.
Organizers included IAMC, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA),, Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), India Civil Watch International (ICWI), Dalit Solidarity Forum (DSF), International Christian Concern (ICC), Justice for All (JFA), and Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA)
Mohammad also alleged that Hindu nationalists had launched “inflammatory campaigns decrying interfaith relationships or engagement, including calling for boycotts and censorship’s of media depictions of interfaith relationships.
“These efforts targeting and de-legitimizing interfaith relationships have led to attacks and arrest of non-Hindus and violence towards any interfaith interaction,” she said.
Mohammad said the demolition of two mosques in Uttar Pradesh last month, one by officials defying a court order, was “particularly alarming.”
Indian Supreme Court’s verdict last year handing the site of a mosque, demolished in 1992 by Hindu extremists, for building a Hindu temple in its place, was also alarming, she added.
USCIRF, Mohammad said, was “concerned about religious freedom conditions in India, particularly in Uttar Pradesh.”
India’s restrictions on foreign funding of NGOs had impacted religious freedoms in UP with the result that “religious minority rights violation is occurring frequently and civil society lacks the freedom to document these or raise voice against them.”
That is why, she said, USCIRF had recommended that the US Department of State designate India as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), for “engaging in and tolerating systemic, ongoing and egregious violation of religious freedom,” Mohammad said.
It also recommended imposition of “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.”
Mohammad alleged disinformation and “intolerant content” about Muslims, Christians, Dalits had “emboldened intimidation, harassment and created incidents of mob violence.”
She cited “hateful rhetoric” from government officials and images circulated on social media at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year for spreading such hate.
Read: USCIRF places India among 14 ‘countries of particular concern’ (April 21, 2021)
Govind Acharya, India Specialist with Amnesty International USA, condemned the ‘police crackdown’ at Aligarh Muslim University, following peaceful protests against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC).
Joining the briefing from Lucknow, human rights activist and Magsaysay Award winner, Sandeep Pandey accused Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s government as turning UP into a “police state.”
Nikhil Mandalaparthy, Advocacy Director, HfHR, said the “love Jihad” laws had “led to mass arrests of young Muslim men and empowered Hindu extremist groups to carry on attacks.”
Hena Zuberi, Washington, DC Director for JFA, said the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had “used communalism and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the past and that rhetoric has led to the attacks and deaths.”
John Prabhudoss, FIACONA Chairman, alleged Christian organizations were “literally choking” in Uttar Pradesh as “village churches are being burnt and [Christian] families are beaten.”
Roja Singh, DSF President, alleged that dominant caste members were assaulting Dalits in Uttar Pradesh to wield power.
Joining the briefing from New Delhi, Indian journalist and author Bhasha Singh said UP had become “an ideal laboratory” for converting India into a Hindu nation.”