Religious Minorities Face Escalating Violence in Pakistan and India, U.S. Report Reveals

The U.S. State Department has unveiled its annual 2023 Report on International Religious Freedom, bringing to the forefront severe issues facing religious minorities in India and Pakistan. This comprehensive report reveals distressing details about the persecution and violence experienced by these communities, painting a grim picture of the current state of religious freedom in the region.

Blasphemy Allegations and Violence in Pakistan

In 2023, a large number of people in Pakistan faced accusations of blasphemy. Most of these individuals were Muslims, followed by Ahmadis and Christians. The Federal Investigation Agency arrested 140 people for alleged blasphemy on social media, resulting in 11 death sentences, two of which were upheld by higher courts.

The report also points to the actions of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, which reduced Wikipedia's services due to blasphemous content and blocked over 71,000 URLs at the government's request. Additionally, the Senate passed legislation in August increasing the penalties for blasphemy.

Violent attacks by armed sectarian groups have targeted religious gatherings and buildings, victimizing members of Hindu, Christian, Ahmadi, Sikh, Sunni, and Shia communities. In 2023, at least 16 individuals, including seven Shias, four Sikhs, three Christians, one Hindu, and one Ahmadi, lost their lives because of their faith.

"On December 29, 2023, the Secretary of State redesignated Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom and issued a waiver of the sanctions that accompany the designation in the national interest of the United States. Pakistan was first designated a CPC in 2018," the report states.

Rising Concerns in India

In India, the report highlights the troubling situation faced by Muslim and Christian communities. It documents numerous instances of harassment and violence against these groups, often under the pretext of anti-conversion laws. These laws, meant to curb forced religious conversions, are reportedly being misused to target and imprison members of minority communities on false charges.

In February, a significant protest saw 20,000 Christians gathering in New Delhi to voice their concerns over increasing violence. The following month, 93 former senior government officials addressed an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, condemning the persistent harassment of Christians by political party leaders. The report further notes that local police in some instances aided mobs disrupting worship services or stood by as attacks on Christians unfolded.

"Christians and Muslims were arrested under laws banning forced religious conversions, which religious groups said in some cases were used to harass and imprison members of religious minority groups on false and fabricated charges or for lawful religious practices," the report states.

Violence against Christians in India has increased recently. Despite government officials saying positive things, some members of the BJP party do things that go against these assurances. Human Rights Watch and other international organizations have asked the Indian government to investigate and punish those responsible for violence against minority groups.

In 2022, there were 272 incidents of communal violence reported, including attacks, threats, and even murder. Some of these incidents were related to ‘cow vigilantism,’ where Muslim men were attacked based on accusations related to cow slaughter or beef trade.

As the international community continues to watch, the hope is that these revelations will prompt meaningful changes, ensuring that religious minorities in Pakistan and India can live without fear of persecution and violence.

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