India saw highest levels of religious hostilities during COVID-19: Report

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India saw the highest level of religious hostilities during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, said think tank Pew Research Center in a report published on Tuesday, as per a report by Scroll.

At a score of 9.4 out of 10, India fared the worst in Social Hostilities Index in 2020, more than its neighbours Pakistan (7.5) and Afghanistan (8), according to the think tank’s 13th annual study of restrictions affecting practice of religions.

The centre calculates the Social Hostilities Index on 13 questions that measure hostilities both between and within religious groups, including mob or sectarian violence, crimes motivated by religious bias, physical conflict over conversions, harassment for attire for religious reasons, and other religion-related intimidation and violence.

In its report, the think tank made a mention of the decision taken by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to place 900 members of Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat under quarantine after it held a religious congregation at the Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi in early 2020.

The mosque was closed on 31 March 2020, after the Tablighi Jamaat congregation was blamed for thousands of coronavirus cases around the country. The event had renewed the stigma against Muslims, triggering a wave of business boycotts and hate speech.

Several cases were also filed against those who attended the congregation for reasons such as allegedly disobeying the government’s Covid-19 guidelines or violating the conditions of their visa. However, courts have quashed most of the FIRs and acquitted the members, reads the report.

The Pew Research Center report also said that India was among the three countries, besides Indonesia and Yemen, where pandemic-related killings of religious minorities took place in 2020. It took note of the two Christians who died after they were allegedly beaten up in police custody in Tamil Nadu on charges of violating coronavirus restrictions.

Jayaraj and his son Bennix were taken into custody on 19 June 2020, for questioning as they had kept their mobile accessories shop open outside permitted hours during the coronavirus lockdown. They were later sent to the Kovilpatti sub-jail. On 22 June, Bennix complained of breathing problems and was admitted to a local government-run hospital. He later died at the facility. His father died the next day.

As per the report, the Central Bureau of Investigation in its chargesheet had said that Jayaraj and Bennix were beaten so badly that blood was splattered on the walls. They were made to clean the blood with their clothes. The CBI added that the two were made to suffer “several rounds of brutal torture”.

India, however, fared somewhat better on the Government Restrictions Index – the second factor on which the report is based – with a score of 5.8.

China was had the highest levels of government restrictions, scoring 9.3 on the index, according to the report.

The Government Restrictions Index is based on 20 questions that assess whether governments restrict religious practices or beliefs. The questions include the extent to which governments try to control religious groups or individuals, prohibit conversions, limit preaching, or hinder religious affiliation by means such as registration requirements and fines.

Several Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states have in recent years such as Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have passed laws banning forced conversions and are aimed at penalising “love jihad”.

The term has been used by Hindutva outfits to push the conspiracy theory that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marrying them with the sole purpose of converting their brides to Islam, reads the report.

These laws are stringent in nature with Madhya Pradesh doubling the jail term for forced religious conversions for marriage from five years to 10 years. In Himachal Pradesh, the Bill bans converts from availing themselves of any benefit from their parents’ religion.

However, the state of restrictions in India, on both the indices, was not at their worst levels in 2020. In terms of social hostilities, 2016 was the worst year for India, and 2018 witnessed the highest levels of government restrictions, reported Mint.

The Pew Research Center based its report on several sources including the US Department of State’s annual reports on religious freedom and annual reports from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, as well as reports and databases from European and United Nations bodies and several independent, non-governmental organisations.

To back up these sources, the think tank cited news reports on Covid-19 produced by organisations including think tanks and university research centres.

“The information obtained from these reports is purely factual, and not opinions,” Samirah Majumdar, the report’s lead author, told Mint.

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