South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights defenders, on Wednesday said it was “deeply alarmed and concerned” by the “rising explicit intolerance” against minorities, especially Muslims in India, and the ongoing crackdown on human rights organisations.
In a statement, SAHR said, “In recent times India’s vibrant democracy has been seeing an alarming process of dilution by the rise of xenophobic nationalism and threats to religious minorities who are being pushed steadily and deliberately into becoming second-class citizens in their own country.”
The statement from the Colombo-headquartered regional human rights network comes in the context of the hate speech at a conclave of Hindu religious leaders and political activists in Haridwar in December 2021.
The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday asked the Uttarakhand government for an explanation on why those accused of delivering hate speech at the ‘Dharm Sansad’ organised in Haridwar were yet to be arrested.
“Such vitriolic speeches instigating communal disharmony and caste-based violence are totally repugnant to the idea and image of India and is damaging its reputation as the world’s largest democracy. The levels of impunity that perpetrators enjoy is especially noteworthy,” SAHR said, adding: “The Hindutva ideology appears to have completely infiltrated politics and state governance, resulting in the disintegration of the rule of law and public institutions such as the law enforcement machinery, leading to relentless online and offline violence against minorities.”
SAHR also referred to the controversial Bulli Bai app, which recently made news for targeted attacks on minorities. The app and the Haridwar event, SAHR observed, indicated “the undisguised visceral hatred unleashed openly and jointly by known political figures, sections of Hindutva ideologists, and the supporting public”.
Further, pointing to developments in regard to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act registrations of non-governmental organisations in India, SAHR observed that authorities seemed to be “on a focused warpath to shut down” critical voices and groups working to promote, protect and uphold fundamental rights.
The “strength, sagacity, and maturity” of a democracy, SAHR noted, is measured by a government’s ability to engage with dissenting voices and opinions and in being able to address the legitimate concerns raised by human rights defenders and civil society organisations.
“The implementation of the rule of law, the protection of human rights, guaranteed individual freedoms — of expression, assembly, and religious practice and freedom from discrimination are after all the hallmarks of a thriving, throbbing democracy,” said the statement, signed by SAHR chairperson Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan legal scholar and rights activist, who earlier served as UN Under Secretary General and Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict.
The network of regional activists “strongly” urged the Government of India to reflect on its constitutional obligations, revisit its duties and responsibilities towards the welfare of all citizens of the country and ensure the protection and promotion of democratic values for all.