Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - India

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - India, 16 July 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a66d9b5c.html [accessed 22 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

'We firmly believe that our country can progress when all minority groups in the country feel safe and secure and the benefits of progress and development reach them' (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 25 November 2008).

This comment by India's Prime Minister came after months of violent attacks against Christians in Orissa in a year when the country's Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities faced numerous instances of abuse and attacks, which have been linked to a worrying rise in Hindu nationalism. The response of state governments and law enforcement officials was limited and slow.

Protests amongst Muslims in the Kashmir valley and Hindus in Jammu over government plans to donate land to build a Hindu shrine resulted in violence and killings in the conflict-ridden state. Muslims in Kashmir protested through the summer months of 2008; by June four people had died and hundreds had been injured in the protests.

In August, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called all-party talks to discuss protests in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley and the Hindu-majority Jammu region. By August the death toll had risen to over 25 and international human rights groups expressed concern over the state's military response to the protest.

In a separate incident in June, clashes between supporters of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and local Muslim villagers over the RSS setting up a camp on Sagar Island in West Bengal resulted in the injury of 40 people.

Through 2008 Muslims also found themselves vulnerable to being branded as terrorists. The counter-terrorism tactics of the Indian police have been seriously questionable, while security forces are rarely held accountable for human rights violations committed during counter-terrorism operations. In November 2008 charges were dropped against a group of police officers accused of torturing of 21 Muslims arrested on suspicion of being involved in bomb attacks in Hyderabad in 2007. Human rights groups expressed outrage at the decision not to prosecute as a report by the Andhra Pradesh Minorities' Commission concluded that the police officers had used several forms of torture on the suspects.

Opposition groups and sections of civil society also criticized the police for gunning down Atif Ameen, a 24-year-old Muslim college graduate accused of being behind a terror attack in Delhi in September that killed 22 people. Later Sadiq Sheikh was accused of having played the same role. In August the Supreme Court ruled that an Indian government ban on an Islamic student group accused of terrorism will remain in force, despite an earlier judgment which had said there was no evidence to show the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was unlawful.

India's popular investigative magazine Tehelka found that an overwhelming majority of terrorism cases were based on 'non-existent or fraudulent evidence', and that hundreds of people, mainly Muslim and poor, were persecuted and falsely accused of terrorism. According to media reports, Bar Associations in different parts of the country, Faizabad, Lucknow and Dhar among them, have asked their members not to defend Muslim terror suspects.

Religious violence

India's Christian population, particularly in the city of Orissa, witnessed some of the worst violence in recent years in attacks sparked by the killing of a Hindu leader. Hindu mobs burnt down Christian monasteries, churches and orphanages even though police blamed Maoist rebels for the killing. By September 300 villages were burnt, 4,014 houses destroyed and 50,000 Christians forced out of their homes, the All Ceylon Christian Council said. Christian leaders also expressed concerns over the slow investigation conducted by a one-man state-appointed commission.

A large number of the victims were Dalits targeted by Hindu mobs because they converted to Christianity, partly to avoid caste-based discrimination.

Following months of violence, in November, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said his government would not tolerate attacks on religious and other minorities and would do everything possible to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Reporting to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2009 on her visit to India the previous year the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir said: 'organized groups claiming roots in religious ideologies have unleashed an all-pervasive fear of mob violence in many parts of the country'. She said the reluctance of law enforcement machinery to take action on religious violence had created a situation of institutional impunity. While she praised India's secularism, human rights activism and strong legal protection for religious minorities at national level, she cautioned that, because of the country's federal system, the implementation of laws differed from state to state.

In April India's Jain community asked to be granted minority status on a par with the Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Parsis and Sikhs, under the Delhi Minorities Commission Act, 1999. This would enable them to incorporate Jainism as a subject in Jain schools.

Discrimination and conflict

Incidents of discrimination and attacks against India's more than 166 million caste-based minorities continued through 2008.

Because they are marginalized and sidelined in society, Dalits are often the last to access aid during climate-related disasters. When severe flooding in India's Bihar state left hundreds of thousands of people homeless in 2008, Dalits were severely discriminated against in access to aid. According to Dalit human rights organizations, the number of Dalit deaths in relief camps was far higher than among other groups.

In Bangalore, in November, police forced about 100 hijras, or working-class transgender people, from their homes in what human rights groups warned appeared to be a trend of 'social cleansing' in the city. The incident followed newspaper report that Bangalore police had captured a 'gang' of hijras who, it was alleged, were kidnapping children and using them for sex.

Violence in tribal areas persisted through most of 2008. In May, at least 41 people died in clashes between police and nomadic people in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. The violence began when police opened fire on demonstrators from the Gujjar people, who were demanding to be included in affirmative action quotas.

In October at least 64 people were killed and 300 injured in a series of bomb explosions in India's north-eastern state of Assam. The separatist United Liberation Front of Assam denied any role in the blasts.

Indian military dominance means that people live in fear of targeted attacks against them by the military, including incidents of rape. In a 2008 report Human Rights Watch said that the Indian government should fully prosecute army, paramilitary and police personnel responsible for killings and torture in the north-eastern state of Manipur. Torture of detainees, particularly suspected militants and their supporters, remains common, the report said.

Education

Together with Bangladesh, India is the only other South Asian country on track to achieve the primary education enrolment target of 97 per cent by 2015, UNESCO said. India's net enrolment rate at primary level is now 94 per cent, while the secondary education enrolment rate has increased from 39 per cent in 1999 to 43 per cent in 2006.

After cabinet approval in October the Indian government introduced to the upper house of parliament the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill in November. The bill is aimed at ensuring free education for all children aged between 6 and 14, and it could benefit poor minority communities as it requires all schools in the country to keep 25 per cent of entrance places for children to enter free.

Indian President Pratibha Patil, addressing the last session of the parliament in February, highlighted the achievements of her UPA government: under the new 15-point programme for the welfare of minorities almost 800,000 minority students would be provided with scholarships in 2008, increasing to nearly 4 million over the next four years. She said that more than 10,000 new primary and upper primary schools have been constructed in areas of minority concentration during her government's rule. Also, a bill to give statutory backing to the National Monitoring Committee of Minority Education will be introduced in the coming session of parliament.

The head of India's National Commission for Minorities, Mohammad Shafi Qureshi, in a media interview said that little has changed for minorities because of gap between government pledges and implementation. 'Funds are not a problem. The programmes are in place, but their implementation is in a shambles,' he said. The Indian government earmarked over Rs.14 billion for 2007-08 for the Ministry of Minority Affairs, nearly triple the Rs.5 billion allocated in 2006-07.

Copyright notice: © Minority Rights Group International. All rights reserved.

Search Refworld

Countries