Some human rights NGOs and religious minority groups expressed concern over what they perceived as laws and government practices favoring Hinduism over other faiths, while some Hindu groups expressed concern over laws and government practices that they perceived as favoring minority religious communities. Some human rights and religious minority groups said state-level “anti-conversion” laws were designed to impede conversion from Hinduism, while not restricting conversion to Hinduism. Local authorities arrested persons under certain sections of the IPC who were engaged in activities deemed offensive to other groups or religions.
According to NGOs and Christian missionaries 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. The missionaries stated this provision was used as a harassment mechanism to keep them from praying. Information relating to the total number of such arrests and convictions was not available.
In August Hindu activists prevented a pastor from conducting Sunday worship after accusing him of coerced conversion in Koranga village, Madhya Pradesh. Police arrested the pastor following complaints of “deliberate and malicious acts to outrage religious feelings.” The pastor was released on bail.
On August 8, authorities arrested two Christian women in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, for violations of the state’s freedom of religion act based upon accusations by Hindu groups that they coerced persons to convert to Christianity. The two women were arrested for holding a prayer meeting in their house with these persons. The women were later released on bail.
On September 4, the Shivpuri District administration in Madhya Pradesh arrested four Hindu Dalits for converting to Islam without obtaining prior permission from district authorities as mandated by the state’s Freedom of Religion Act. Following opposition by the World Hindu Council and the Hindu group Bajrang Dal, district administrators also rejected applications of nine others seeking to convert to Islam. Four of the men converted back to Hinduism after Hindu Dalit elders decreed social pressure and other measures, including destroying crops, socially isolating those who converted, and imposing fines to dissuade future conversions to Islam.
On September 12, the Madhya Pradesh police arrested five Christians in Khargaon on charges of coerced conversion and luring a local laborer to convert to Christianity by offering monetary benefits.
On September 24, following accusations by Hindu groups, the Shivpuri police in Madhya Pradesh arrested nine Muslim men on charges of initiating Dalits into Islam.
Authorities continued to enforce laws designed to protect “religious sentiments,” which at times had the effect of limiting free expression related to religion, according to observers. On September 24, police in Rustampura, Gujarat, arrested Mehdi Hasan, a Muslim cleric, on charges of insulting Hindus’ religious sentiments after a member of the Hindu community complained about Hasan’s comments during an interview with a Gujarati newspaper. During the interview, Hasan reportedly labeled those who honored the nine-day Hindu festival Navratri as “demonic.” Hasan remained in judicial custody until serving out his sentence on October 2.
According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), a national Christian network, 145 incidents of anti-Christian violence were registered across the country, including 40 attacks in December.
Two Christian media outlets reported that on June 10, a mob in Sirsiguda, Chhattisgarh allegedly instigated by the Hindu organization Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), assaulted Christians who were appealing to the district food inspector for rations. Christian organizations claimed that Sirsiguda officials denied government food rations for two months to 50 Christians and that village shops also reportedly refused to sell goods to Christian families following VHP pressure.
EFI released a report in March which stated there was “structural and institutional violence” against Christians in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Gujarat. According to EFI, local district councils and police in these areas were responsible for arresting Christians, denying them land rights, and harassing churches, often on the basis of nonexistent laws. Many incidents involved the seizure of land from tribal people who converted to Christianity. The report said police failed to effectively investigate such incidents or arrest perpetrators. According to the report, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Karnataka top the list of states in which Christians faced incidents of targeted communal violence in 2013. The report detailed as many as 151 incidents of anti-Christian violence, with Andhra Pradesh registering 41 cases, Chhattisgarh 28, and Karnataka 27.
In February a court in Odisha acquitted Ghanashyam Mohanta and Ranjan Mohanta, who were accused of participating in the 1999 killing of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two children. The primary perpetrators of the killings, Dara Singh and Mahendra Hembram, are both serving life sentences.
Civil society activists and Sikh advocacy groups continued to express concern about the government’s failure to hold accountable those responsible for the 1984 communal violence in New Delhi that resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 persons, the majority of whom were Sikh, although there was slow progress in several court cases. On January 30, the Delhi High Court decided to hear all appeals together relating to 1984 anti-Sikh riots cases in which Congress Party leader Sajjan Kumar was involved. On September 24, a local court acquitted four people, including three Delhi police, in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case on charges of killing three members of a Sikh family. On September 25, the Delhi High Court refused to grant bail to two of three individuals serving life terms in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case where five members of a Sikh family were killed.
Hundreds of legal cases remained pending from the burning of a train and subsequent violence in Godhra, Gujarat, in 2002. Muslims were accused of setting fire to the train, killing 58 people. In the anti-Muslim violence that followed, 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed. In March Zakia Jafri, whose husband was killed in the Gulberg Society Islamic neighborhood during the 2002 violence in Gujarat, appealed a 2012 Gujarat High Court judgment not to pursue charges against state officials for their alleged role in the 2002 violence. The appeal was pending at the end of the year.
The Gujarat government expanded the number of Muslim-majority areas in Ahmedabad designated legally “disturbed”. Authorities included the neighborhoods of Gulberg Society and Naroda Patiya, two of the areas worst affected by the 2002 riots. The designation requires residents to obtain government permission to sell real estate in affected areas through March 31, 2018. NGOs said that, while the intent of the law was to stop the forced sales of properties in areas that experienced communal violence, the law has led to communal isolation by limiting areas where Muslims may sell property.
In January the Islamic Relief Committee (IRC) rejected an offer by the Gujarat government to pay 50,000 rupees ($791) for each shrine damaged during the 2002 Gujarat riots, claiming the offer was “non-commensurate with the loss sustained.” In 2012, the Gujarat High Court had ordered the Gujarat government to pay compensation to 535 mosques and shrines following an IRC petition that the court evaluate the damages on a case-by-case basis.
On November 18, the Gujarat government’s Nanavati-Mehta Commission issued its final report on the 2002 violence. It was not released publicly. According to local media, the report concluded that the state government was not culpable for the violence that led to nearly 1,200 deaths. Civil society groups continued to express concern about the Gujarat government’s failure to arrest those responsible for the violence. Media reports claimed some Muslims still feared repercussions from Hindu neighbors in connection with pending court cases. Several victims accused the Special Investigative Team of pressuring them to dilute their earlier testimony before the commission.
On July 8, the Supreme Court heard a court case filed by Christian groups in 2004 to ensure that Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity and Islam retain the same access to reserved government jobs and subsidies as other Scheduled Caste members. After the hearing, the government asked for more time to review the law and formulate a position on implementation.
Courts continued to hear cases related to the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Odisha. Fast-track courts assembled for the purpose of trying criminal cases related to 2008 violence between Christians and Hindus in Kandhamal, Odisha, have convicted 495 people, including 14 persons sentenced to life in prison. On March 14, a Cuttack criminal trial court judge sentenced Mitu Patnaik to 11 years’ imprisonment for the public rape of a nun during the violence. Two others, Gajendra Digal and Saroj Badhei, were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment as accomplices in the rape.
The government required foreign missionaries of any religious group to obtain a missionary visa and usually expelled those who performed unregistered missionary work.
The Mumbai police, working with social media websites, deleted approximately 450 posts deemed to be of a religiously inflammatory nature on social networking sites in a stated effort to control communal violence.
Government officials reportedly made discriminatory statements against members of religious minorities. During public remarks in December at an election rally, junior government minister Niranjan Jyoti stated that voters had a choice between a government of “the children of Ram [i.e., Hindus] or the children of bastards.” After her remarks stirred several days of heated national condemnation and disrupted proceedings of parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in parliament that he “strongly disapproved of the remarks” and “we should avoid using such language.” Jyoti subsequently expressed regret for her remark.
On July 16, the Supreme Court rejected a petition for government compensation for churches damaged in the 2008 Odisha riots. The Supreme Court ruled that churches damaged during the Kandhamal riots were not entitled to any compensation, as they received sufficient funds from foreign countries. NGOs advocating for Odisha riot victims said that the government compensated victims only for damages to residential properties, without taking into account places of worship and losses suffered on account of damaged household articles, livestock, stolen valuables such as jewelry, and official documents.