There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, although none claimed national government involvement. The national government generally respected religious freedom in law and in practice; there was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the year. The national government generally enforced legal protections for religious freedom; however, human rights activists criticized it for alleged inaction regarding abuses committed by state and local authorities and private citizens. State governments limited religious freedom by implementing some restrictive laws and by not efficiently or effectively prosecuting those who attacked religious minorities. There were reports of arrests but no convictions under the “anticonversion laws” during the year. There were no reports of district magistrates denying permission for religious conversions.
The national government, led by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), continued to implement an inclusive and secular platform that included respect for the right to religious freedom. However, due to a lack of sufficiently trained police and elements of corruption, the law was not always enforced rigorously or effectively in some cases pertaining to religiously oriented violence, and prosecution continued to be weak. These shortcomings were exacerbated by a low police-to-population ratio, corruption, and an overburdened, antiquated court system. Despite government efforts to foster communal harmony, some extremists continued to view ineffective investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of attacks on religious minorities as a signal that they could commit such violence with impunity, although numerous cases were being pursued in the courts at the end of the year.
Low-caste individuals who converted to Christianity or Islam were no longer able to access certain affirmative action benefits. The law reserves a set number of places in higher education institutions and government jobs for members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Under the constitution, however, only Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists can be members of Scheduled Castes; members of other religions are considered to be outside the caste system. Human rights groups argued that economically and socially disadvantaged people who chose to convert should not be further disadvantaged on the basis of their choice of religion.
On August 25, the MMA informed parliament that the NCM had received 942 complaints between January 4 and July 31. Of these, 536 had been resolved and closed, 180 were with the concerned authorities for resolution, and the remaining cases were being processed. The ministry also reported it received 2,378 complaints in 2010-11, compared to 2,278 complaints received in 2009-2010, but claimed the details regarding resolved and pending cases were not readily available. At year’s end, there was no available information on cases from August 1 to December 31.
Similarly, the NCM reported on its efforts to address communal violence against minorities. For example, from November 29 to December 2, the NCM led, together with the National Integration Council, an investigative team in Kashmir after allegations that the Christian minority was being harassed by members of the state’s Muslim majority. The team noted hostilities towards Christian workers, churches, and Christian educational institutions.
The Supreme Court and state-level courts tried numerous cases of communal violence during the year, although many other cases, including from high-profile incidents, were pending at year’s end.
Civil society activists continued to express concern about the Gujarat government's failure to arrest those responsible for communal violence in 2002 that resulted in the killing of more than 1,200 persons, the majority of whom were Muslim. Media reports indicated some Muslims still feared repercussions from Hindu neighbors as they waited for the court cases to be resolved.
The violence in Gujarat in 2002 displaced over 250,000 persons, many of them Muslims, from Gujarati villages and cities. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, 19,000 persons remained displaced as of September 2010; they were living in 86 relief colonies that lacked adequate infrastructure.
In 2002 the Gujarat government appointed the Nanavati-Mehta Commission to investigate the violence. On December 21, the term of the commission was extended for the 17th time, with the final report on the 2002 Gujarat communal violence due on March 31, 2012. The commission has received over 50,000 affidavits and supporting documents from various witnesses, and has stated that it is in the process of writing the final report and will not seek another extension. Several victims have accused the Special Investigation Team (SIT), appointed by the Supreme Court in March 2008, of pressuring them to dilute their earlier testimony before the Nanavati-Mehta Commission. In many of the cases tried in Gujarat’s lower courts, the accused were acquitted due to a lack of evidence or changes in the testimony.
Three of nine major cases stemming from the 2002 Gujarat riots made partial progress during the year. The Supreme Court asked the SIT to probe these nine cases in March 2008.
In the Gulberg Society massacre case, on September 12, the Supreme Court asked the trial court in Gujarat hearing the case to probe whether Chief Minister Narendra Modi and 60 others could be prosecuted for their role in the riots and referred Zakia Jafri’s complaint to the Gujarat state courts. Jafri, a survivor of the Gulberg Society killings, had tried since 2006 to register a complaint against Modi and the other 60 for complicity in the communal violence. The Supreme Court also directed the trial court to consider the April 25 SIT report and the July 25 Ramachandran report as it made its probe. On March 15, the Supreme Court had requested that the SIT conduct a further probe, and that civil society activist and senior counsel, Raju Ramachandran, conduct an independent probe into the SIT findings. The trial court had not pronounced its verdict at the end of the year. On July 25, the SIT also submitted to the Supreme Court two status reports on the nine cases of Gujarat communal violence from 2002. The SIT told the Supreme Court that trials in seven cases were nearing completion and that the statements of witnesses were being recorded in the other two cases.
On November 9, a special court in Gujarat sentenced 31 persons to life in prison for killing 33 Muslims in the Sardapura massacre case during the 2002 riots. The court rejected the charge of conspiracy made by the prosecution. The court also acquitted 11 others. Both the convicts and the representatives of the victims have challenged the judgment in the Gujarat high court. The high court had not given its ruling about the challenges at the end of the year.
On February 22, a special court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, convicted 31 persons for burning a train in 2002 in Godhra, Gujarat, which killed 59 Hindus and sparked reprisal attacks from the Hindu community. The SIT probed the case and the Supreme Court also monitored the trial. On March 1, 11 persons received the death penalty and 20 were sentenced to life imprisonment. Those convicted appealed the ruling in the Gujarat high court and the Gujarat government filed a petition demanding the death penalty for all 31 persons. The Gujarat high court did not pronounce judgment on the petitions by the convicts or the Gujarat government by year’s end.
The other six cases of major riots investigated by the SIT were being heard in different trial courts at the end of the year. Hundreds of other court cases stemming from the 2002 violence (which were not in the purview of the SIT) remained unsettled.
On December 15, the Delhi metropolitan court deferred hearing the appeal filed by Sikh action groups against the court order which closed all cases against Congress Party leader Jagdish Tytler for lack of sufficient evidence. Victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots accused Tytler of inciting one of the many mobs that formed after the assassination of then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards. The court had accepted the CBI’s report recommending closure of the case in April, 2010; the appeal was filed in May 2010.
On December 12, the Delhi additional sessions court resumed the trial against Congress Party leader Sajjan Kumar and five others for their alleged role in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. The trial had been stalled since October when the sitting judge was transferred and no other judge was appointed to fill the vacancy.
In September, the Supreme Court expressed dissatisfaction over the slow process in relief and rehabilitations (assistance to victims) of the Kandhamal, Odisha (formerly Orissa) violence, which erupted after the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides in August 2008. The Supreme Court asked the NHRC to submit a report on the status of relief and rehabilitation; the report had not been filed at the end of the year. Kandhamal had two fast track courts to expedite the delivery of justice to the victims of the 2008 violence. In May church groups reported that out of 3,232 criminal complaints, only 828 were turned into first information reports, the necessary first step in an official investigation. Of these, 790 cases were found to be genuine. In May, church groups reported that 327 cases went for trial, of which 167 ended in acquittals and 86 cases in convictions; 90 cases are still pending. According to official figures, 1,597 suspects have been acquitted; Christian groups claimed that thousands more had not even been arrested.
While the pace of justice delivery in Odisha was faster than in other cases of communal violence, the speedy verdicts in Odisha upset many Kandhamal victims who complain that the fast-track courts acquitted offenders. Archbishop of Bhubaneswar Father Raphael Cheenath stated that weak investigations and intimidation of witnesses were weakening the cases, leading to a large number of acquittals.
There were cases of communal attacks on religious minorities and their property, and allegations of police brutality during the year. In several instances those who had been attacked reportedly were arrested, and there were allegations that the police protected the attackers, not the victims.
For example, on December 6, a group attacked a Jehovah’s Witness place of worship in Madikeri, which is the district headquarters of Kodagu District in Karnataka. Witnesses claimed that local police provided protection to the attackers. Three Jehovah’s Witnesses, including a police constable, were allegedly attacked. The police constable was arrested and charged under Section 295 of the IPC and subsequently dismissed from his position. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the police and other individuals alleged to be Hindu fundamentalists entered the same place of worship on December 7, and they smashed furniture and burned religious books. The attacks were broadcast on live television. At the end of the year, no charges had been brought against the attackers.
On November 19, Reverend Chander Mani Khanni was arrested in Srinagar and charged with hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims after seven Muslim youths were baptized. He was also charged with promoting enmity between different groups. Witnesses claimed the police beat the youths to force them to testify against the pastor, and alleged some extremist groups were attempting to use the issue of conversion to confront the state government, political parties, and moderate Islamic groups. The pastor was released on bail on December 1.
There were reports of arrest and harassment of minorities. Several sections of the IPC often were invoked in a manner that resulted in restricting freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Officials typically claimed that information in pamphlets or discussions at gatherings were injuring the religious sentiments of others. The others whose sentiments were allegedly injured were often members of the majority religious group.
For example, on December 22, according to media reports, authorities arrested Brother Sagaya Dass of the India Campus Crusade for Christ for alleged forced conversion after he and some Christian students of the S. P. Hindu College in Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, organized a Christmas celebration. Dass was released on December 23.
Authorities in some states continued to arrest Christians under state-level “anticonversion” laws during the year for allegedly engaging in conversions by force, allurement, or fraud. Authorities granted bail to those charged, and there were no reports of convictions under these laws during the year. In Kashmir, Karnataka, and Maharashtra, Christians claimed that authorities filed false charges of conversion by force and allurement. They also charged that the police were biased in registering complaints, doing so promptly only when the accused was a Christian. For example, on December 16, Pastor Sagar Guntur and four elders of Badhravathy Baptist church were arrested after Hindu extremists trespassed into one of the elder’s homes and accused them of forcible conversions. Police charged the Christians with performing “deliberate and malicious acts” to insult the religious feelings of another group. The Christians were released on bail after two days.
There also was a report of authorities arresting Muslims under state-level “anticonversion” laws. On December 22, the police in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, arrested Maulvi Yusuf Khan Pathan, a Muslim cleric, and Muslim youth Altaf Mirza, under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act. The police acted on a complaint filed by a Hindu woman who alleged that the cleric and Mirza had illegally and forcibly converted her daughter Kaushangini to Islam. In the complaint, Kaushangini’s mother alleged that the cleric and Mirza had not acquired the mandatory prior permission for conversion which is required under the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act. Altaf Mirza and Kaushangini were married in October 2010 and Kaushangini converted to Islam before the marriage. A local court in Ahmedabad rejected bail applications filed by the cleric and Mirza. Both the cleric and Mirza continued to be in judicial custody at the end of the year.
On April 21, police in the Thane District of Maharashtra arrested six missionaries on the charge they were “forcibly” converting Hindu tribals to Christianity. Maharashtra does not have a law against forcible conversions but the missionaries were booked under the IPC’s Section 295 for “insulting the religious feelings of the Hindu tribals.” The missionaries were later released on bail and no conviction was obtained in the case at the end of the year.
During the year, Pastor Shivandi Siddi remained free on bail and the charges against him remained pending in a lower court. In September 2010, the pastor was arrested under Section 295 of the IPC and charged by Karnataka police of conducting “false religious conversions.” According to the Global Council of Indian Christians, Hindu extremists attacked Siddi during a religious service and put pressure on police to arrest him.
Human rights activists reported that police dismissed the March 2010 incident in Pathanamthitta District of Kerala, in which six persons, including two pastors, were arrested on charges of publishing and distributing a book that promoted enmity between religions. The book, Chinwathu Palam (Bridge to Heaven), allegedly contained sacrilegious comments about the Prophet Muhammad. Five of the accused were released on bail, but bail was revoked by the court and the accused rearrested after prominent Muslim groups objected and called for a general strike. The accused contended they had nothing to do with the book’s publication, which had been arranged by the deceased author, and that authorities were trying to appease a section of voters before the next election. Those arrested were subsequently released.
The four Jehovah’s Witnesses arrested in March 2010 remained free on bail during the year, and have appealed a lower court ruling which convicted them of blasphemy and sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested in the Kodagu District of Karnataka and a case was filed against them under Section 295 of the IPC, which prohibits acts intended to insult other religions or beliefs. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a large mob had threatened to rape the three female Jehovah’s Witnesses and burn the male Jehovah’s Witness alive.
There were reports of attacks on places of worship and of discrimination against minorities.
For example, on December 3, media reported the destruction of a 21-year-old-church building in Hosur, Tamil Nadu by Hindu radicals. Police failed to file a first information report in the case despite repeated requests by church authorities.
On July 7, the Madhya Pradesh high court issued notice to the Madhya Pradesh government on a petition filed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference challenging the implementation of the Right to Education Act in the state. The petition claimed that the Madhya Pradesh government was interfering in the constitutional privileges of the educational institutions belonging to religious minorities under the guise of implementing the Right to Education Act. The petition alleged that the schools belonging to religious minorities were being asked to admit students they did not wish to admit, and this practice was a violation of their constitutional privileges.
On March 22, the Madhya Pradesh government issued a circular to all district-level police stations asking them to carry out a thorough survey of the Christian community. The police were asked to collect information from Christians about their socio-economic profiles, educations, associations with educational institutions, numbers of schools and institutions run by Christians, numbers of Catholics and Protestants in each district, and sources of income for NGOs and institutions run by Christians. The Christian community became aware of the survey when police officials in Sehore District threatened to arrest a priest they claimed refused to cooperate. When the community raised an alarm about the survey, S K Rout, Director General of Police, Madhya Pradesh, claimed ignorance of it. After representatives of the Catholic Church met with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan and protested, the police issued orders to call off the survey.
The government maintained a list of banned books that may not be imported or sold in the country because they contained material the government deemed inflammatory and apt to provoke communal or religious tensions. Most bans imposed during previous years remained in effect during the year.
Similarly, the government was sensitive to content on the internet and social media. In a series of meetings beginning September 5, Telecommunications Minister Kapil Sibal requested that social media companies find a technical solution to prescreen user content prior to posting on the Internet, appearing to circumvent the need to obtain legal justification for removal of content. When the request reached the media on December 5, pressure from activists, social groups, and the public forced Sibal to modify his comments. On December 15, Sibal met with Internet and social media companies and explained that the government wanted internet platforms to create guidelines to protect the sentiments of the people. A spokesman for the Congress Party stated that the party did not support Internet censorship. On December 15 and 20 a criminal case and civil case, respectively, were filed in the Delhi lower courts against social media companies alleging the companies hosted content that was “inflammatory, defamatory, and unacceptable to communal sensitivities.” On December 21, a court in Delhi ordered 22 websites to remove material deemed antireligious and antisocial following a complaint by Mufti Aijaz Qasmi, a religious leader from Delhi. The court told websites to comply by February 6, 2012.