The constitution provides for freedom of conscience and the right of all individuals to freely profess, practice, and propagate religion; mandates a secular state; requires the state to treat all religions impartially; and prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. It also states citizens must practice their faith in a way that does not adversely affect public order, morality, or health. Six out of 29 state governments enforce anticonversion laws. State governments recognized Gujarat’s Jain community and Maharashtra’s Jewish community as minority groups in May and June respectively. The Supreme Court was considering a case challenging the constitutionality of the Islamic practice of instantaneous “triple talaq” divorce; the federal government filed a brief in support of the challenge. Courts issued final decisions in several long-standing cases pertaining to religiously motivated violence. Authorities investigated 12 police officers in Madhya Pradesh on charges of attempted murder of a Hindu arrested for writing defamatory commentary about Islam. Authorities frequently did not prosecute members of vigilante “cow protection” groups who attacked alleged smugglers, consumers, or traders of beef, usually Muslims, despite an increase in attacks compared to previous years. Courts also issued decisions on several long-standing cases related to religiously motivated violence and riots. Christian and Muslim activists stated the government was not doing enough to protect them against religiously motivated attacks. The government filed a Supreme Court petition challenging the minority status of Muslim educational institutions, which affords the institutions independence in hiring and curriculum decisions. Some nationalist political leaders advocated for the country to be declared a Hindu state.
There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism, and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytize. There was an increase in violent incidents by cow protection groups against mostly Muslim victims, including killings, mob violence, assaults, and intimidation. Hindus threatened and assaulted Muslims and Christians and destroyed their property. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), there were more than 300 incidents of abuse targeting Christians during the year, compared with 177 in 2015. Incidents included assaults on missionaries, forced conversions of non-Hindus, and attacks on churches, schools, and private property. Administrators at some Muslim and Christian schools and graveyards denied their facilities to interreligious couples or their children. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) reported 751 conflicts between religious communities, which resulted in 97 deaths and 2,264 injuries in 2015.
Senior U.S. government visitors underscored the importance of tolerance throughout the year, including the Secretary of State during his August visit to New Delhi. The U.S. Ambassador spoke at a Muslim university on the importance of religious diversity. The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited New Delhi, Bangalore, and Mumbai to engage with government officials, religious leaders, and human rights activists to discuss religious freedom issues. The U.S. embassy and four consulates general continued to discuss religious freedom issues with political leaders, state and local officials, religiously affiliated organizations, and civil society groups from all religious communities.