The US State Department has highlighted attacks in India by cow protection groups against people accused of bovine trafficking or having beef in its annual report on religious freedom, while attempting a measure of balance by also including critical mention of practices by minority religions.
The International Religious Freedom Report for 2016 (IRFR) released on Tuesday by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: "There was an increase (during 2016) in violent incidents by cow protection groups against mostly Muslim victims, including killings, mob violence, assaults, and intimidation."
The report also mentioned instances of attacks on people suspected of making what were claimed to be derogatory remarks against Islam, including the involvement of police in one incident in Madhya Pradesh, the denial of burial rights by Christian and Muslim institutions to inter-religious couples and the arrest of a Catholic priest in Maharashtra on complaints that he denigrated Islam and prevented a teacher trainee from wearing a burqa.
IRFR took note of some positive developments on the religious front in India. Jews were accorded minority status in Maharashtra making their community "eligible for several government assistance programs".
"There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism, and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytise," the report said. "The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) reported 751 conflicts between religious communities, which resulted in 97 deaths and 2,264 injuries in 2015."
The IRFR quoting a Christian fundamentalist organisation, the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), said that there were "300 incidents of abuse targeting Christians during the year, compared with 177 in 2015" and that "incidents included assaults on missionaries, forced conversions of non-Hindus, and attacks on churches, schools, and private property".
"Members of civil society expressed concerns that, under the BJP government, religious minority communities felt vulnerable due to Hindu nationalist groups engaging in violence against non-Hindu individuals and places of worship," the IRFR said.
"Religious minority communities stated that, while the national government sometimes spoke out against incidents of violence, local political leaders often did not, which left victims and minority religious communities feeling vulnerable."
The IRFR raised the case of Compassion International, a US-based Christian organisation backed by several members of Congress, whose partners in India were refused registration under the Foreign Contributions Registration Act to receive money from abroad.
It noted that activities disturbing "harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic, regional groups, castes, or communities" can be reasons for denying the registrations.
"Some media and civil society representatives stated Compassion International's partner organisations were targeted because MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) alleged they were involved in conversions or other religious activities," the report said.
But it added: "Some other foreign-funded religious NGOs did not report any FCRA-related issues with operations in India."
Most of the report was a compilation from news stories and reports by religious groups and NGOs.
While listing the various instances of attacks by cow vigilantes on people suspected of having or eating beef, the report also noted that the Bombay High Court decriminalised the possession of beef brought from outside Maharashtra saying "it violated a citizen's right to possess and consume food of his or her choice."
In dealing with housing discrimination, the IRFR also said that police had arrested nine members of a housing association in the Mumbai suburb of Vasai after a Muslim complained about its policy of not selling to Muslims. He was then allowed to buy property there, it said.
The IRFR also mentioned that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) report cited harassment and threats of violence as the reasons for "a mass migration of Hindu families from the Muslim majority city of Kairana, Uttar Pradesh" where there was an inflow of Muslims who were displaced by anti-Muslim violence in Uttar Pradesh in 2013."
But it added that it was disputed by Harsh Mander, human rights activist and director of the Centre for Equity Studies, and some NGOs, who demanded its withdrawal.
The report mentioned the challenge to Muslim marriage laws, including triple talaq, before the Supreme Court, that was backed by Muslim women's groups while opposed by Islamic clergy and some organisations.
"Prime Minister Modi stated there should be no discrimination against women on the basis of religion and the government had the responsibility to protect Muslim women's constitutional rights," IRFR added.
(Arul Louis can be reached at email@example.com)