Attacks on Christians, the destruction of Christian institutions, forced conversions to Hinduism and numerous other abuses documented in this report constitute violations of domestic and international law. International human rights law, constitutional provisions, and domestic legislation together impose on the government of India a duty to guarantee certain basic rights to minority populations, to prosecute those who participate in communal violence, and to punish complicit state officials who, having the power and duty to stop the violence, do not intervene.
The preamble of the Indian constitution openly declares India as a "sovereign socialist secular democratic republic" which secures to all citizens "liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship." Though many have debated the meaning of the term secular, in the Indian context it has come to imply equality of rights for all regardless of religion, the exercise of religious freedom and tolerance, and the rejection of discrimination based on religion or belief. Under articles 14, 15, and 16 of the Indian constitution, discrimination on the grounds of religion is prohibited, and all citizens are guaranteed the right to equal treatment before the law and the right to equal protection of the laws. Article 25 guarantees the right to freely practice and propagate religion while articles 26, 28, and 30 ensure the freedom to manage religious affairs, to attend religious instruction or religious worship in certain educational institutions,186 and the rights of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions, respectively.
Select provisions of the Indian Penal Code make punishable acts of violence or discrimination based on religion. These include:
_ Promoting violent attacks against groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, or language (sec. 153).187
_ Injuring or defiling a place of worship with the intention of insulting the religion (sec. 295)
_ Committing deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class, by insulting its religion or religious beliefs (sec. 295A).
_ Disturbing religious assemblies (sec. 296).
_ Trespassing places of worship or places set apart for the performance of funeral rites with the intention of wounding the feelings of any person, or of insulting the religion of any person (sec. 297).
_ Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community, etc. (sec. 505(2), see also committing such an offense in a place of worship, sec. 505(3))
Three other laws should also provide protection to religious minorities. The Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1988, prevents the misuse of religious places for political and criminal activities. It prohibits, among other things, the use of any premises of any religious institution for any act that promotes or attempts to promote disharmony or feelings of enmity or hatred between different religious, racial, language or regional groups. Violations under the act are punishable with imprisonment for up to five years and with a fine of up to Rs. 10,000 (US$238).
The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, prohibits the conversion of any place of worship of any religious denomination into a place of worship of a different religious institution and for the maintenance of the religious character of places of worship as it existed on 15 August 1947. Violations under the act are punishable with imprisonment for a term of up to three years and also a fine. A person convicted of an offence under the said act shall be disqualified for being chosen as, and for being, a Member of either House of Parliament or of the Legislative Assembly or Legislative Council of a state.
The Representation of the People Act, 1951, prohibits the use of religion or religious symbols to promote one's candidacy or to adversely affect the election of another candidate constitutes a corrupt practice that debases the election and is an offense punishable under the law.
In addition to its duties under domestic law, India is also party to several international treaties that impose human rights obligations. Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.188 It provides that:
1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
Articles 2 and 26 bar discrimination on the grounds of religion while Article 27 dictates that "[i]n those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of the their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language."
The right to freedom of religion and prohibitions on discrimination on the grounds of religion are further elaborated upon in the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Although not a treaty, this declaration, proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1981, provides authoritative guidelines to U.N. member states on ways to eliminate religious intolerance and discrimination. Article 4 of the declaration proclaims that, "All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life," and that "[a]ll States shall make all efforts to enact or rescind legislation where necessary to prohibit any such discrimination, and to take all appropriate measures to combat intolerance on the grounds of religion or other beliefs in this matter."
186 Article 28 also prohibits religious instruction in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds.
187 Section 153 of the Indian Penal Code states in Part 1, section c: "whoever organizes any exercise, movement, drill, or other similar activity intending that the participants in such activity shall use or be trained to use criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that the participants in such activity will use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, or participates in such activity intending to use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, or knowing it to be likely that the participants in such activity will use to be trained to use criminal force or violence, against any religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community, and such activity for any reason whatsoever causes or is likely to cause fear or alarm or a feeling of insecurity amongst members of such religious, racial, language or regional group or caste or community shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years or with fine or both...." Section 2 states: "Whoever commits an offence, specified in [section] (1), in any place of worship or in any assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine...." Section 148 of the Indian Penal Code provides for three years of imprisonment for "rioting [while] being armed with a deadly weapon or anything which, used as a weapon of offence, is likely to cause death."
188 India acceded to the convention on April 10, 1979.