Although India touts itself as a secular state historically, the reality tells a different story.
A 2017 Pew Research Center analysis of 198 countries ranked India as fourth worst in the world for religious intolerance. In the country of 1.3 billion, the incidence of hostility related to religion trailed only Syria, Nigeria and Iraq, all places where sectarian violence is widespread.
India as a nation has always been sensitive to communal issues. More recently, sectarian vote-bank politics has given rise to hate crimes based on religion. According to reports, minority communities are living in an antagonistic environment and are “fearful” for their lives.
“Between May 2015 and December 2018, at least 44 people—36 of them Muslims—were killed across 12 Indian states,” claims Violent Cow Protection in India, a recent report by Human Rights Watch. There have been over 100 incidents of cow-protection related violence since 2014, according to IndiaSpend, a data journalism project.
The reasons are largely social but the rots might be political. The Pew study, in addition, also criticised India for having “high” levels of government restrictions on religion, defined as interference in religion practice or proselytizing, hostility to minority religions and inaction on complaints of discrimination.
Caste and religion also matter as powerful forces of discrimination in the private sector in India. It is only over the past few years that a number of companies and industry bodies such as the CII have been able to work with this issue. Laudable steps for change have been taken but much more still needs to be done.