Greetings from the South Asia Collective! We are a network of human rights activists and organisations from across South Asia. We’ve been working since 2015 to document the condition of the region’s minorities, and to help develop capacity among grassroots-level organisations focused on minority rights and the freedom of religion or belief (FoRB).
We are pleased to bring to you the 10th edition (2023/3) of our Online Bulletin, where we provide an overview of recent human rights violations against South Asia’s minorities, and other minority-related news developments. This edition covers the period between 11th June and 10th September, 2023.
Our Bulletins are put together by research & documentation teams from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
We will report on developments related to key rights enshrined in International Human Rights Law, encompassing civil & political rights, as well as economic, social, & cultural rights, and closely monitor the various abuses and violations against minorities in South Asia. Our reporting and presentation will be guided by IHRL.
While our primary focus is on religious minorities (and micro-minorities), our teams will also cover ethnic, caste, gender, and sexual minorities, as well as indigenous peoples. The Bulletins utilise both primary and secondary sources of data. Secondary sources include international and domestic media outlets, as well as other civil society-led documentation efforts. When using primary sources, we rely on victims, witnesses, and other relevant individuals. Although updates from these sources undergo internal verification, we do not disclose their details due to security reasons. We are, however, open to engaging with international accountability mechanisms. In a region where numerous abuses go unreported, our Bulletins are not intended to provide an exhaustive list of violations. Our aim is to establish a record, highlight trends, and contribute to processes aimed at awareness, prevention, and accountability.
Previous editions of the Bulletin are available here.
Highlights of the period under review
Links to country sections: Afghanistan | Bangladesh | India | Nepal | Pakistan | Sri Lanka
Vulnerable minority groups who faced continuing discrimination and marginalisation as well as fresh rights violations during the period under review included Ahmadiyyas (Bangladesh, Pakistan), Christians (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), Dalits (India, Nepal), Hindus (Pakistan, Bangladesh), and Muslims (India and Sri Lanka), and Shia Muslims (Afghanistan). Women and other gender and sexual minorities, including from the aforementioned targeted groups, continued to face intersectional discrimination. Highlights from the period under review include:
- Arbitrary deprivation of life: Instances of extra-judicial and custodial killing of minorities by state actors were reported from India, where at least 4 Muslims were killed in separate incidents while in police custody, and in Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, where local civil society accused state and state-backed actors of carrying out over 40 enforced disappearances of members of the ethnic Baloch minority. In Afghanistan, several Shia Muslims were shot dead by Taliban authorities while commemorating Ashura. In Sri Lanka, a new mass grave was discovered, suspected to contain the remains of female Tamil militants from the civil war.Killings of minorities and minority advocates, including journalists, by extremist non-state actors were reported from several locations in India and Pakistan. Other instances of physical violence against minorities by non-state actors, amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, were reported from Bangladesh (Hindus), India (Muslims, Christians, Dalits), and Pakistan (Christians).
- Ethnic cleansing: Episodes that may be characterised as ethnic cleansing of minority groups by non-state actors were reported from three provinces in India (Manipur, Haryana, Uttarakhand) and from several districts in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
- Arbitrary detention: Instances of arbitrary detention of minorities by state actors happened on several pretexts, such as blasphemy and blasphemy-related charges (Pakistan), religious conversions (India), protesting against attacks by vigilantes (India), for journalism (Afghanistan and India), and for dissenting against the ruling regime (Afghanistan, India and Sri Lanka). In Afghanistan, detentions were reported on charges such as listening to music and not wearing the hijab. In Sri Lanka, hate speech-related legal provisions were abused to arrest comedians, and a controversial pastor’s plea against potential detention re-ignited debate about blasphemy provisions.
- Advocacy of religious hatred constituting incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence: Serious instances of anti-minority hate speech and incitement (‘top’ and ‘intermediate’ level, as per the UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech) were reported in India (against Muslims and Christians) and Pakistan (against Christians). Less severe (‘low-level’) hate speech (against Muslims and other ethno-linguistic minorities) was reported from Nepal. In India, Hindu extremist groups conducted dozens of hate rallies and weapons distribution drives across the country, signalling escalating risk of impending future violence. In Nepal, authorities appeared to be more proactive in curbing the activities of Hindu nationalist hate speech purveyors and other extremists. In Pakistan, Muslim extremist groups continued to weaponise the country’s blasphemy laws as an instrument of persecution against Christians and Ahmadiyyas.
- Freedom of religion or belief: Conditions for religious freedom continued to be dire in most countries. Communities whose places of worship came under physical attack included Ahmadiyyas (Pakistan), Christians (India,Nepal, Pakistan), and Muslims (India). Other restrictions on worship by minorities were reported being imposed in Afghanistan (against Shia Muslims), India (against Muslims and Christians) and in Pakistan (against Ahmadiyyas and Christians).
- Positive developments: A High Court order in Pakistan that is expected to provide some protection for Ahmadiyya places of worship from arbitrary state action, and a Supreme Court order in Nepal has legalised the registration of marriages among members of the LGBTQ community. The implementation of both orders, however, remained sluggish.
Overall, majoritarian trends appeared to be hardening across much of the region, particularly in Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the Taliban continued imposing its strict interpretation of sharia, virtually erasing women and girls from public life. In India and Pakistan, violent majoritarian extremist groups continued to operate with impunity, and in fact appear to be gaining in traction. Crucial provincial and national-level elections scheduled in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh in the coming months, along with a host of upcoming religious festivals, are expected to escalate the risk of potential anti-minority violence and other forms of targeting.
- The 2023 edition of SAC’s flagship annual South Asia State of Minorities (SASM) Report will examine majoritarianism in South Asia, that lies at the root of the various challenges faced by the region’s minorities. The report will contain chapters from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Ahead of the launch of the report, scheduled for February 2024, SAC is exploring interventions focusing on justice and accountability on one hand, and promoting dialogue and diversity on the other. Organisations and individuals seeking to collaborate with us in this realm are requested to email us at email@example.com with suggestions and proposals.
- The 2022 edition of the SASM Report remains available for free download here. The report focused on South Asian states’ commitment to international human rights standards.
- SAC made a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur (SR) on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) on the promotion of FoRB at the national and local level. The submission, which was made in response to a call for inputs ahead of the SR’s report to the General Assembly, covers Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. SAC’s inputs are available here.
- On the occasion of the 54th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), SAC’s Afghanistan partners Human Rights Defenders Plus (HRDP) and Civil Society & Human Rights Network (CSHRN), along with other national and international allies, submitted an open letter to UN agencies on the human rights situation in the country. The letter can be viewed in its entirety here.
- SAC’s Pakistan partner Elaine Alam co-authored an article examining the role played by ‘lower’ caste Hindu and Christian women in preventing violent inter-religious conflict in Punjab. The article can be accessed here.
- Notable, recently-released reports detailing the current human rights situation in South Asia included:
- UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan: ‘A barrier to securing peace: Human rights violations against former government officials and former armed force members in Afghanistan’
- Human Rights Watch: ‘Afghanistan Under the Taliban: The Crime Against Humanity of Gender Persecution’
- Editors Guild of India: ‘Report of the fact-finding mission on media’s reportage of the ethnic violence in Manipur’
- Human Rights Commission of Pakistan: ‘Mob-led destruction of churches in Jaranwala, Punjab’
- Journalists for Democracy is Sri Lanka (JDS) and others: ‘Mass graves and failed exhumations in Sri Lanka’
The South Asia Collective team