The government generally enforced legal protections for religious freedom; however, human rights activists criticized it for failing to respond effectively to some abuses committed by state and local authorities and private citizens. Authorities implemented some restrictive laws and did not always efficiently or effectively prosecute those who attacked religious minorities. There were reports of arrests but no convictions under the “anti-conversion laws.”
There were reports of arrest and harassment of religious minorities. Authorities invoked several sections of the IPC in a manner resulting in restricting these minorities’ freedom of speech on internet sites.
On February 2, the Hyderabad police cybercrime cell requested a social networking site remove a post in response to a complaint made by Muslim groups about a social media page reportedly calling on Hindus to wage war against Muslims.
Court hearings against a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses for offending religious sentiments continued throughout the year in Vidya Nagara, Shimoga in Karnataka state. Police registered a complaint against the individual following a March 2012 attack by a mob of approximately 20-30 persons on four Jehovah’s Witnesses who were engaged in proselytizing.
Three Hindu youths were free on bail and their case remained pending in a local court in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kishtwar district, after they were charged in late 2012 with desecrating religious symbols and inciting communal hatred. The charges involved uploading a video deemed blasphemous onto a social media site.
Fast-track courts assembled for the purpose of trying the accused in the 2008 violence in Kandhamal, Odisha, between Christians and Hindus after the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides convicted an additional 13 defendants and acquitted 259 people. A special additional district court sentenced eight people to life in prison for the killing of Saraswati. Of the registered cases, 255 were pending trial and 257 were closed by year’s end.
In January NGOs reported that the Odisha police arrested two Christians, Bahadur Murmu and Rama Soreng, under the provisions of the state anti-conversion law in Dubia village of Baripada district after a group of Hindu nationalists accused the two of forcible conversions. Both were released on bail on January 20.
In July Gujarat Police filed charges against Maulvi Yusuf Khan Pathan and Altaf Mirza, who were arrested in 2011 under Gujarat’s anti-conversion law, for not seeking government permission to convert a Hindu woman to Islam before her marriage in 2010 to Mirza. Both Pathan and Mirza were out on bail at the end of the year. In 2009, civil rights groups brought a constitutional challenge to the Gujarat anti-conversion laws, but the Gujarat High Court has yet to hear the case.
On October 13, approximately 60,000 Dalits and other lower-caste Hindus converted to Buddhism in a mass ceremony near Junagadh, Gujarat. The Gujarat government ordered an investigation to see if the converts followed the law, which requires government permission to perform conversions. The organizers stated they obtained necessary government permission, but media quoted the District Collector, who needed to approve the conversions, as saying the group had only secured permission to assemble, but not to perform religious conversions.
There were reports of arrests of persons under state-level “anti-conversion” laws. According to NGOs and Christian missionary activists in Odisha, local authorities in some districts invoked a provision of the law to arrest Christian preachers on the grounds they were “forcibly” converting citizens. Information relating to the number of arrests and convictions was not available.
The All India Christian Council reported to the police an instance in June of Hindu extremists in Narasipura, Karnataka burning a Christian church and beating its members. The local police mediated a compromise solution after summoning the two parties; however, the police did not formally register the case.
Clashes in the Muzaffarnagar district in Uttar Pradesh between Hindu and Muslim communities between late August and mid-September led to the deaths of 65 persons, with 68 persons injured and an estimated 40,000-50,000 displaced. Communal violence spread after a Muslim youth was killed by two Hindu youths who accused the boy of sexually harassing a female family member. The local police and the army reportedly allowed unlawful gatherings by individuals carrying arms on September 7, and local administrators reportedly did not respond to counter public calls for violence by politicians and community leaders. At year’s end a state government report indicated 4,783 people remained in five camps for displaced persons, while international media reported approximately 15,000 remained in the camps. Uttar Pradesh officials reported 35 children living in the camps had died, but authorities denied media reports that many of them had died of exposure.
In December human rights NGOs and Muslim groups expressed dissatisfaction with local government efforts to close the displaced person camps, noting many of those being forced from the camps feared returning home and had nowhere else to go. As part of its effort to provide compensation to victims of the violence, authorities requested individuals sign affidavits stating they would not return to their villages in return for compensation of 500,000 rupees ($8,130). Approximately 950 families (comprising 9,000 people) accepted this arrangement. NGOs, however, challenged the legality and wisdom of the agreement not to return to their previous homes, which they argued would further divide people on the basis of religion, and would effectively force people to abandon ownership of their previous homes.
In an August letter to the prime minister, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu recommended Christians of the Scheduled Castes be added to the Scheduled Caste Act and be treated on par with their Hindu counterparts. An existing presidential order on Scheduled Castes accorded special benefits to Scheduled Caste members who are Hindus by reserving education and employment for them. Scheduled Caste Hindus who converted to Christianity were not eligible. According to Christian and Muslim groups, the order discriminated based on religion by denying similar benefits to Muslims and Christians. The chief minister also requested the Supreme Court address several pending petitions filed by religious minority groups challenging the order.
There was minimal progress during the year in a court case filed by Christian groups in 2004 demanding that Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity and Islam have the same access to reserved government jobs and subsidies as other Scheduled Castes. The Supreme Court heard the case during the year and the Catholic Bishops Conference of India filed court documents. A subsequent hearing is scheduled for March 2014.
On August 27, the Gujarat government told the Supreme Court it would prepare a plan for paying for the repair of the 535 mosques and shrines damaged during 2002 riots. This was a result of a ten-year legal battle by the Islamic Relief Committee-Gujarat.
The Gujarat government agreed to implement a 2008 central government minority scholarship program after the Supreme Court declined to stay an order of the Gujarat High Court directing the state government to implement it. The program is meant for Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, and Parsi students. In response to public interest litigation in the Gujarat High Court, the Gujarat government had argued the program was unconstitutional. According to media reports, administrative hurdles still acted as a deterrent to prevent many minorities from securing the scholarships.
The Gujarat government continued to expand the number of Muslim-dominated areas in Ahmedabad, the capital city, designated as “disturbed” under the law. During the year, authorities listed areas such as Gulberg Society and Naroda Patiya, which were some of the neighborhoods worst affected by the 2002 riots, as “disturbed.” A practical effect of the designation was requiring residents in these areas to obtain the district revenue official’s permission before they could sell any immovable property. The requirement was to remain in effect until March 31, 2018. Critics stated that while the law’s original intent was to stop the distressed or forced selling of properties in areas that experienced communal violence, in practice it has led to isolation by limiting the areas where Muslims could buy and sell property.
The Ahmedabad-based NGO Janvikas released a survey of socio-economic infrastructure in 63 areas of Muslim concentration across Gujarat, finding them lacking in access to infrastructure such as road links, banks, the public distribution system, healthcare, water, sanitation, and education. The Janvikas report stated these areas remained negatively affected by the 2002 riots, and that the Gujarat Housing Board-built housing failed to take into account the lack of security that Muslims and Hindus felt since the riots in areas where they were not the majority. The report concluded Muslims and Hindus tended to only reside in areas where they were a majority and where they had separate access to services.
In August the Madhya Pradesh government withdrew a notification requiring chapters of the Bhagwad Gita, one of Hinduism’s holy books, to be part of the school curriculum, following widespread opposition. The government had directed the inclusion of the Gita chapters in the school syllabus for the 2013-14 academic year.
In September the Madhya Pradesh High Court heard a public interest law suit charging Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of the Legislative Assembly Kamal Patel and his son Sandeep with inciting communal violence for political gain during a September 19 incident of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in Harda, Madhya Pradesh. A Hindu crowd had blocked the Hoshangabad-Khandwa highway with a cow carcass after reports spread of the killing of a cow on a Muslim-owned farm. The crowd then set a number of houses on fire. Thirty houses were damaged and 17 people sustained injuries. The High Court directed police authorities to submit a report on the violence.
The Maharashtra State Minorities Commission began hearing cases on housing discrimination against Muslims following complaints by some residential societies in Mumbai. In one case the police did not take action to investigate a complaint of discrimination in spite of an order from the commission to do so.
According to media reports, in October a Mumbai-based real estate broker posted online advertisements for flats in Mumbai and Thane. The postings also stated, “Muslims not allowed.’’ The advertisement was removed in November after activist Shehzad Poonawalla filed a petition with the National Commission for Minorities seeking action against the real estate agent and website for discrimination. The website issued a formal apology and promised to take measures to avoid such actions in the future. The Maharashtra State Minorities Commission also began an investigation and promised to take action against the property owner as well as the real estate agent.
In September the Supreme Court accepted a petition filed by Rais Ahmad Patel and the Mumbai-based Citizens for Justice and Peace seeking a Criminal Bureau of Investigation probe into the shooting deaths of six Muslims by police. Patel’s son Saud Patel was one of the six dead. The shootings occurred in Maharashtra on January 6, following communal clashes. Six policemen were arrested and the Maharashtra government ordered a judicial inquiry.