Hindu Supremacy biggest threat to religious freedom in India since Gandhi assassination: Arfa Khanum Sherwani at IRF Summit - IAMC
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Hindu Supremacy biggest threat to religious freedom in India since Gandhi assassination: Arfa Khanum Sherwani at IRF Summit

Washington, D.C. (Feb 5, 2024) – Speaking at the International Religious Freedom Summit (IRF Summit) on Jan 30-31, prominent Indian journalist Arfa Khanum Sherwani stated that Hindu majoritarianism – also known as Hindutva, or Hindu supremacy – is “the greatest threat to secularism and religious freedom in India” since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

“The ideology that is responsible for the assassination of Gandhi… is ruling India right now,” said Sherwani, Senior Editor at Indian publication The Wire, while speaking at a panel titled “Challenges in India for Non-Majority Faiths” organized by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC).

Sherwani also pushed back against the idea that rising anti-Muslim violence in India should be labeled as merely “communal violence” or interfaith clashes.

“It’s not communal violence. Let’s call it what it is. It is state persecution of Indian Muslims… Right now, it is the Indian Muslims who are [painted as] the clearest enemy,” Sherwani said. “I feel [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] might try to formalize the status of second class citizenship to Indian Muslims, and he might try to change the constitution in fundamental ways.”

Another break-out session on South Asian religious freedom, titled “Blasphemy and Violence Across India,” featured Nadine Maenza, President of the IRF Secretariat and former Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), who spoke on rising anti-minority violence in India.



“We see Hindu nationalists in coordination with the controlling BJP government, targeting ‘the Other,’ including Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and other religious and ethnic minorities,” said Maenza. “The hate speech and religiously discriminatory policies and laws have led to violent attacks, including sexual violence against minorities within communities.”

Also speaking at the panels were activists and faith leaders, including Sukhman Dhami, Co-Founder of Ensaaf, a nonprofit organization working to achieve justice for crimes against humanity in India.

“India has become a country where persecution based on faith is a consistent feature,” said Dhami. “We’ve also seen an entrenched culture of impunity arise… Because of this culture, we see a continuing replication of persecution and gross human rights violations.”

Dhami also commented on recent reports that the Indian government ordered assassinations on individuals living outside of India, including in the United States and Canada.

“India has been emboldened by the fact that it has been able to get away with atrocity crimes in India,” he said. “[It] has now taken those same practices… and has felt that it has a license to kill with impunity internationally.”

Siju Thomas, Director of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International India, spoke on rising hate crimes against Christians by Hindu supremacists, including cases of mob violence.

“Just last year we reported close to 700 incidents of violence and hostility against Christians [in India],” said Thomas. The year before that, we had close to 500 such incidents; and the year before that, again, close to 500… and these are very conservative estimates.”

“For the last almost ten years, we have continuously seen attacks on the Indian constitution… [some] say that we have already formed a new constitution, and if that comes to effect, there won’t be voting rights for Christians, Muslims or other minority communities,” said Father Christu Rajan, Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore. “India remains a secular country, but that is now a jeopardy.”



“Hindu majoritarian extremists… day in and day out are attacking churches, mosques, symbols of the minority religious community,” said Ajit Sahi, Advocacy Director at IAMC. “They are beating up people and forcing them to chant Hindu religious slogans… But they are never acted against.”

“Right now, everything is weaponized,” said Bina Nepram, Founder of the Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace. “Our identity is weaponized, our religion is weaponized, our homes are weaponized, our politics is weaponized. How can we build a society with guns? We have to do nation building, and it has to be done with a lot of love.”