According to the U.S. State Department, “serious human rights challenges” and abuses in India were mentioned in the yearly U.S. report on human rights practices that was released on Monday. They included reported targeting of religious minorities, dissidents, and journalists.
In a rare open criticism of India’s human rights record by Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated about a year ago that the United States was keeping an eye on what he called a surge in human rights abuses in India by some government, police, and prison personnel.
U.S. criticism of India is rare due to close economic ties between the countries and India’s increasing importance for Washington to counter China in the region.
Significant human rights issues in India have included credible reports of the government or its agents conducting extrajudicial killings; torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; political prisoners or detainees; and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, the U.S. report added.
Advocacy groups have raised concerns over what they see as a deteriorating human rights situation in India in recent years under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Human Rights Watch has said the Indian government’s policies and actions target Muslims while critics of Modi say his Hindu nationalist ruling party has fostered religious polarization since coming to power in 2014.
Critics point to a 2019 citizenship law that the United Nations human rights office described as “fundamentally discriminatory” by excluding Muslim migrants from neighboring countries; anti-conversion legislation that challenged the constitutionally protected right to freedom of belief; and revoking Muslim-majority Kashmir’s special status in 2019.
The government dismisses the accusations by saying its policies are aimed at the development of all communities.
In 2022, authorities also demolished what they described as illegal shops and properties, many of them owned by Muslims, in parts of India. Critics say the demolition drive was an attempt to intimidate India’s 200 million Muslims. The government defended the demolitions, saying they were enforcing the law.
“Human rights activists reported the government was allegedly targeting vocal critics from the Muslim community and using the bulldozers to destroy their homes and livelihoods” without due process, the U.S. report released on Monday added.
Since Modi took office in 2014, India has slid from 140th in World Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking by non-profit Reporters Without Borders, to 150th place last year, its lowest ever. India has also topped the list for the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world for five years in a row, including in 2022, internet advocacy watchdog Access Now says.
“Civil society organizations expressed concern that the central government sometimes used UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) to detain human rights activists and journalists,” the U.S. report said.