The Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan pushed Afghans, especially those from minority groups, to a precarious situation. This continued during the period under review. Alongside other extremist groups like the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), the Taliban are accused of subjecting minorities to brutal attacks, casting doubts over the protection of minority groups from violence and terror. Despite Taliban officials’ initial statements that they have reformed elements of their 1990s ideology and their pledges of moderation, the future for minority groups appears bleak. After one year of their takeover of Afghanistan, minority groups are struggling to survive. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 2022 mid-year report recorded 2106 civilian casualties, which means, considering the concept of minority in the context of Afghanistan under the Taliban, a huge percentage of casualties are from minority groups. Their physical existence is in danger because of their identity as they are not recognised as equal to Pashtun citizens. Besides, they are not represented in the cabinet and in public administration.

Less than a month following the fall of Kabul, the Taliban announced their interim government, declaring the country an ‘Islamic Emirate’ aiming to enforce Sharia law. In September 2021, they introduced their cabinet with no representation from ethno-religious minority groups or women.The judicial system was replaced with field courts in provinces and verdicts of former courts were invalidated. Forced displacement in non-Pashtun resident areas began to increase. Forced redress of already resolved disputes are implemented either by the Taliban or by their affiliates in the north and central areas of the country. The humanitarian crisis in the country has exacerbated sufferings of the minority groups, especially of civilians displaced due to internal strife.

Despite having lived in the country for centuries, some minority groups like Afghan Kyrgyz, Sikhs and Hindus are trying to leave the country. Of the estimated 100,000 Sikhs and Hindus in 1970, only 140 remain and their lives are under threat. A deadly explosion in a Sikh prayer site in Kabul in June 2022 left one worshiper dead and several injured. Marginalisation of the Hazara religious minority of Shia Muslims is also steadily mounting. Ashura, a commemoration day for Shia Muslims, was a national holiday under the former government but not anymore under the Taliban. Additionally, several deadly attacks on this minority group has put them at risk of genocide since the Taliban takeover.

Religious and ethnic minority groups’ displacement, lack of access to social services such as health care, shelter, education, welfare, and humanitarian aid in Afghanistan is another major concern. Thousands of Uzbeks and Turkmens in Faryab province displaced during the conflict between the Taliban and the former government in northern areas of the country are still suffering. Their shelters were destroyed, and they do not have even enough food to eat. Hazaras who lost their everything in recent floods in Ghazni instead of receiving immediate assistance for living, are forced to pay ushur and zakat.

The Taliban takeover also resulted in the dominance of one minority group over others. Since August 2021, Kochi nomads, who enjoy support from the Taliban, have violated the rights of other minority groups. In Hazara-dominated areas of Ghazni province, they have turned school buildings into cattle sheds while students do not have classrooms. In Takhar, Kochi nomads live in homes of local Tajik ethnic group under order of the Taliban. In August, armed Kochi nomads attacked Hazaras in Daikundi province to grab their lands.

The larger minority groups, Tajiks and Hazaras, who have resisted the Taliban, have been discriminated against by the Taliban. Several cases show that civilians belonging to these two minority groups have been subjected to incommunicado detentions, torture, extrajudicial killings and forced displacement. In August, the Taliban set on fire Tajik homes in Panjshir province. They arbitrarily arrested 25 civilians and have forcibly displaced people in Abdullah Khil district of this province.

Afghans belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community who do not conform to rigid gender norms in Afghanistan are also deprived of their rights. The Taliban Sharia law does not recognise LGBTIA+ rights. The group has increasingly reported grave threats to their lives and safety. They fled their homes from attacks and threats from the Taliban after the fall of Kabul.

The rights of minority groups continued to be violated with them often facing violence in Bangladesh during the period under review. As has been the case in the past decade, in July 2022, shops and several houses owned by Hindus were vandalised in Narail district in southwestern Bangladesh after a Facebook post allegedly defamed Islam. A temple with furniture inside it was also vandalised. As in the past, social media posts from fake profiles representing Hindu identities are often used to trigger violence against Hindus. The violence led a hundred Hindu families, especially women, to escape the area, feeling particularly vulnerable with their ‘honour at stake’. The incident took place while memories of wide-scale violence against Hindus following a similar allegation that led to the death of 11 people, including seven Muslims and four Hindus, October 2021 were still fresh.

Hindu leaders and activists allege that violence against Hindus in Bangladesh is a ploy by radical Islamists to grab their property including land. In the violence in July, the mob also took money and valuables from the houses of Hindus. Despite the viewpoint, as expressed in some quarters, that the latest violence directed at Hindus is a retaliation against the Hindu cultural assertiveness in neighbouring India as evidenced by the violent clashes during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in March 2021, resulting in the deaths of 12 people, targeting of Hindus has a long history in Bangladesh.

But it is not only Hindus who fear that their land is under threat. Indigenous groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts from the southwest of the country and the plain lands are ‘facing violence, evictions and deaths centring on their land’, according to activists and academics. People from minority communities have also been killed, a minority leader said during an interaction in October on the issue.

Since August 2017, Bangladesh has been hosting more than a million of Rohingya refugees following their large-scale persecution in neighbouring Myanmar. The Rohingyas was another minority group that continued to face discrimination in Bangladesh during the period under review. The government started fencing around the refugee camps in 2019 under a plea for security; again in 2022, more than 3000 shops run by the refugees were demolished in refugee camps. The bulldozing of shops has threatened the livelihoods of families who were dependent on the shops, further exacerbating the already precarious situation of the refugees. While authorities claimed that the shops were ‘illegal’, refugee leaders claimed since the ration provided to them is not enough, families were relying on the income from the shops.

Homosexuality remains illegal in Bangladesh and is punishable with up to life imprisonment, as per the Penal Code 1870; the provision is not widely enforced rather used as a tool of harassment against the community. Meanwhile, as in India and Pakistan, hijras (generally transgender women) are traditionally accepted in the country but discrimination against them continues despite them being recognised as a ‘third gender’ in 2013. A 2022 study conducted among 346 hijras, living in five urban cities of Bangladesh, found that members of the community face widespread human rights violations in the spheres of economic, employment, health, education, social, civic and political rights.

In 2022, India’s religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, continued to face violence. Ever since the general elections victory of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 and its even stronger showing in the 2019 elections, targeted violence against minorities both by authorities and by Hindu vigilante groups have escalated.

Summary and abusive punishment by authorities

India witnessed the emergence of a troubling new trend of authorities in BJP-governed states using demolitions of homes and businesses as a method to inflict collective punishment on Muslims. This brand of ‘bulldozer justice’ has been championed by senior BJP leaders across the country, and has been widely celebrated by BJP supporters. Large-scale, summary demolitions of ostensibly “illegal” buildings inhabited by Muslims were reported from:

  • Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Gujarat, in the aftermath of ‘communal’ violence sparked by extremist Hindus chanting violent and provocative slogans against Muslims during celebratory processions marking Hindu festivals. (‘Communal’ violence provoked by such sloganeering during Hindu festivals were also reported from West Bengal and Jharkhand.)
  • Uttar Pradesh, after Muslims organised widespread protests against derogatory remarks made by BJP leaders about Islam’s Prophet Mohammad.
  • Assam, where summary evictions of Muslims allegedly living on government-owned land have been routine for several years, affecting tens of thousands of Muslim families, and Gujarat, where the homes of hundreds of Muslim fishermen were razed for reasons of ‘national security’.
  • Kashmir, where Indian authorities have historically used home demolitions as a tool to quell resistance to its rule.

In yet another brazen instance of state authorities using cruel and degrading treatment to punish Muslims, police officials in Gujarat were recorded publicly flogging several Muslim men with sticks, as a crowd cheered on. The men had been accused of throwing stones at a Hindu ceremonial dance.

Anti-Muslim incitement and violence by non-state Hindu nationalist actors

The trend of Muslims facing violent attacks from non-state actors enjoying near-impunity also continued. A select list of widely-reported instances of Muslims being murdered include:

  • In July in Karnataka’s Dakshin Kannada district, the killing of a 23-year-old Muslim labourer, by assailants with alleged links to the BJP, and the death of an 18-year-old Muslim man died after he was attacked by members of a Hindu nationalist extremist group.
  • In February, the lynching of a 35-year-old Muslim man in Bihar’s Samastipur district, for allegedly trying to steal cattle. Another such lynching – of a 50-year-old Muslim man – was reported from Madhya Pradesh’s Narmadapuram district in August.
  • In September in Uttar Pradesh, the lynching and shooting of a 19-year-old Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district, on suspicion of theft; and the lynching of a 55-year-old vegetable vendor in Badhohi, allegedly by a mob led by a BJP leader, after his goat entered his premises.

Muslims across the country also continued to faced violent attacks, for reasons such as talking to a Hindu girl, posting a video of a girl on social media, or simply for asserting their Muslim identity.

The trend of Hindu extremists organising mass gatherings inciting hostility, discrimination, and violence against Muslims also continued, despite the Supreme Court directing authorities in three states to take prompt action to curb such events. Article 14, which documented 20 such events since August 2021, noted that nine were attended by BJP lawmakers, including two Members of Parliament and seven state-level legislators.

Targeting of Christians

India’s Christians, many of whom are ‘adivasis’ (members of indigenous tribes), also continued to face violence and state targeting, particularly in BJP-ruled states. United Christian Forum, an advocacy group, documented 313 attacks up to October 2022, with BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh accounting for 121 (39%) of all incidents.

Some widely reported incidents include:

  • In July, the violent assault of a Christian pastor in Haryana, by members of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu nationalist group associated with the BJP.
  • In March, the violent assault of a pastor in Delhi, by a mob that tied him to a pole accusing him of proselytization.
  • In December, a series of violent attacks against Christian adivasis in Chhattisgarh, displacing over 1000.

Meanwhile, in response to a suit filed in the Supreme Court, the federal government claimed that there had been no ‘targeted’ attacks against India’s Christians.

Targeting of Dalits

India’s Dalits, so-called ‘untouchables’ who have faced structural violence and discrimination for centuries, also continued to face violence and other forms of targeting. Murders, rapes, kidnapping and abductions and other instances of human rights abuses of Dalits documented by civil society groups numbered 51 during this period. This is likely a gross under-count, with recently released government data revealing that as many as 71,000 crimes against Dalits were pending investigation at the end of 2011.

Continuing conflict and targeted violence in Kashmir

Kashmir, the Muslim-majority region from which the Indian government revoked nominal autonomy in August 2019, continued to be marked by violent armed conflict. Local Kashmiris alleged that many of the slain ‘militants’ were civilians.

Minority Kashmiri Hindus too continued to face violence from armed insurgents. Seven targeted killings were reported in just the month of May alone, including that of four Hindus and three Muslim police officials. Three more killings were reported in October, including one local Kashmiri Hindu and two migrant workers from elsewhere.

Repression of critics

The Indian government’s ongoing repression of the freedoms of expression and other rights in Kashmir continued. An Amnesty International investigation in July and August 2022 found ‘at least 60 instances in which journalists and human rights defenders have been subjected to interrogations, criminal investigations, arbitrary arrest, detention, and surveillance since August 2019’. In 2022, Kashmiri journalists continued to be detained, questioned and arrested as well as barred from leaving the province, after the Kashmir Press Club was shut down in January.

 Elsewhere too, the Indian government continued to repress critics of its ideology and policies. The trend of using draconian laws, including anti-terror provisions, to prosecute journalists and HRDs continued. Prominent critics targeted in 2022 included an activist who had pursued accountability for gross human rights abuses under Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his tenure as Gujarat’s chief minister in 2022; a journalist who runs a popular fact-checking service; and a journalist who had petitioned the Supreme Court over the Indian government’s use of illegal spyware to target critics.

Also in 2022, the foreign funding licenses of several prominent CSOs were cancelled, while the offices of many others were raided by income tax officials.

Exemplifying the impunity and state patronage that violent Hindu extremists enjoy under the BJP regime, 11 convicts serving life sentences for the rape of a Muslim woman and the murder of 14 members of her family during the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat were pardoned and released by the state government ahead of provincial elections.

Discriminatory laws and policies
  • In August, ahead of state elections, BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh passed a bill reinforcing its ‘Freedom of Religion’ Act, mandating a 10-year prison sentence for ‘mass conversions’, defined as two or more persons converting at the same time. In September, Karnataka too enacted a new anti-conversion law. Similar laws have recently been enacted or strengthened in several BJP states, including Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. Such laws, now in place in 11 states, are typically used to control and penalise conversions out of Hinduism, whether consensual or not. They are also increasingly used to target inter-faith couples, including married couples. 
  • BJP-ruled Karnataka banned the wearing of religious attire in government-funded schools, disproportionately impacting hijab-wearing Muslim girls. The ban, which does not apply to Sikhs wearing turbans, was later upheld by the state High Court on the grounds that the hijab was not an ‘essential’ aspect of Islam. India’s Supreme Court failed to deliver a conclusive verdict on the matter. Thousands of Muslim girls have dropped out of schools and colleges in Karnataka since the imposition of the ban. Karnataka’s ban has also inspired colleges in other BJP-ruled states to impose similar measures.
  • Laws criminalising cow slaughter, now in place in 20 states, also continued to legitimise violence against religious minorities. In August, a BJP leader in Rajasthan publicly boasted of having five people killed, urging others to “kill anyone who is involved in cow slaughter.”
  • BJP-ruled Assam continued targeting Islamic madrassas, which were dubbed as ‘hubs for terrorism’ by the chief minister. Many were bulldozed, while others were shut down.
  • In Manipur, where the BJP retained power in March, the state legislative assembly announced that it would roll out a National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise similar to the one carried out in neighbouring Assam, where 1.9 million people now face the risk of statelessness.

Although known to be more tolerant towards minorities compared to other South Asian countries, incidents of discrimination against Dalits continued in Nepal during the period under review. Despite discrimination on the basis of caste being illegal and provisions of inclusion are mandated by law, this is not implemented. The situation led to the Supreme Court, ruling on writ petition demanding provisions for equality, non-discrimination, equity, inclusion, right to participation and social justice for members of the Dalit community, ordering the government in February to make short-, medium- and long-term plans within three months to ensure their rights and implement them as per provisions of the constitution. However, the government is yet to announce such plans.

Dalits not only face discrimination and inequality, they continue to face human rights abuses as well. In June, a woman was barred from entering a temple in Kathmandu district although Dalits claimed that they had contributed in the building of the temple. A report released in September found that between mid-April 2021 and mid-April 2022 (2078 BS according to the Nepali calendar) Dalits faced 88 instances of human rights violations including five deaths because of their caste status. A total of 25 Dalit women and girls were raped during this period. Other forms of violations and discrimination included attempted rape, non-renting of rooms and barring of entry into temples. Of these, only 10 cases were settled through court while 16 were mutually settled outside the legal regime. The number of cases of human rights violations against Dalits are on the rise and this is evidenced by government reports. Nepal Police registered 39 cases of caste-based discrimination between mid-July 2020 and mid-July 2021, compared to 29 in corresponding period in the previous year. Between mid-April and mid-June 2022, there were 10 incidents of caste-based discrimination against Dalits in Nepal. These included death in prison, accusation of witchcraft, physical assault and murder among others.

The extent of discrimination and maltreatment Dalits in Nepal have faced and the deep-seated prejudice against the community was highlighted in August when it was revealed that authorities had issued Dalits citizenship certificates with first names like Kukur (dog in Nepali), Kukurni (bitch), Fyauro (fox), Singane (snotty), Chor (thief) and Thug (cheat). After an uproar, the Ministry of Home Affairs directed local administrations across the country to change the names. Cases of such derogatory names were prevalent in Karnali and Sudurpaschim provinces in western Nepal.

Discrimination against sexual minorities belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community continued in Nepal during the period under review. Discrimination by the state was evident in the announcement in January of the preliminary findings of the decennial census held in 2021 as it did not record in a single Nepali in the ‘other’ category besides male and female, in a population that totaled 29 million, despite there being such a category in the census. Activists, however, hope that when the final results of the census that was held in October-November 2021 is announced, there will be better news for them. The census had also been criticised for the lack of inclusivity in the census as LGBTQIA+ activists saying that ‘other’ does not reflect the diversity within the category.

That harassment of sexual minorities at the societal level remains despite hijras being traditionally recognised in the Tarai plains of southern Nepal was evident when two of them, aged 43 and 47, were indiscriminately beaten up on suspicions of stealing a baby in Bishnupur Rural Municipality of Siraha district. They were rescued when police arrived at the scene. The duo with other hijaras visit families to bless a newborn, a traditional practice.

During the period under review, Pakistan’s religious minorities continued to face threats, physical attacks, including targeted killing, mob violence, abduction and forced marriage and desecration of cemeteries. Christians and Amhadiyyas were particular targets of attacks but Hindus were not spared either. The LGBTQIA+ community was also under threat despite the traditional tolerance of transgender people.

An elderly priest was shot dead and another priest who was travelling with him was wounded in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in January. The 75-year-old priest was returning after Sunday mass. A Christian man died of wounds after he was shot by two people on motorcycles in a Christian colony in Mastung area of Baluchistan province in August. Three teenagers were also injured in the attack. In February, the Christian owner of a snooker club in Lahore died after he was beaten by a mob of some 150 to 200 Muslim men following an altercation at the club the previous day. The victim’s uncle had filed a complaint to the police after some men had ransacked the club’s property following the argument and the mob had demanded the withdrawal of the complaint.

The Ahmadiyya community is another religious minority that continues to face violent attacks in Pakistan. In May, a 33-year-old Ahmadiyya man was stabbed and killed while he was returning from his fields by a seminary student in Okara of Punjab province. In August, another Ahmadiyya man was stabbed to death in Chiniot district, Punjab province, after the assailant told him to disassociate himself from the community.  Ahmadiyyas are also persecuted for observing Muslim rituals since their status, though earlier recognised as Muslim sect, was redefined in 1974 and in 1984; Ahmadiyya community members declaring themselves as Muslims became a criminal offence. In July, three members of the community were arrested after a case was filed against them for sacrificing animals in their homes in Faisalabad, Punjab province on Eidul Azha, which is celebrated by Muslims by sacrificing animals.

Ahmadiyya graves were desecrated during the period under review in further sign of intolerance towards the community. In July, 53 graves in an Ahmadiyya graveyard in Gujranwala, Punjab province, were desecrated with their headstones shattered and broken by policemen.  A similar such incident took place in February when police defaced as many as 45 Ahmadiyya graves, removing plaques and destroying headstones in Hafizabad, Punjab province.

In another sign of religious intolerance in the country, girls and women of minority religious communities are abducted, converted into Islam and married to Muslim men. In January, a 14-year-old Christian girl was abducted, converted to Islam forcefully and married to a 45-year-old Muslim man in Lahore in Punjab province. But the law does not see such incidents as a crime as long as the girl has started mensurating as she is considered to be of marriageable age. Besides, forced conversion is not a crime and Pakistan’s parliamentary committee in October 2021 rejected a bill to protect religious minorities against forced conversion. In March, an 18-year-old Hindu girl was shot dead in Sindh province when she resisted an attempt to abduct her and force her marriage.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are also used to persecute religious minorities and others and this trend continued during the period under review. After protests, a Hindu sanitation worker was arrested in Karachi in August ‘without proper investigation’ on charges of burning pages of a religious book. In February, a Hindu college teacher was sentenced to life imprisonment in Karachi, Sindh province, for blasphemy. In July, a 34-year-old bicycle mechanic was sentenced to death for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad following an altercation with a customer who was asking for a discount in Lahore of Punjab province in 2017. In October, a handicapped man, accused of blasphemy, was set ablaze and when he jumped into pond to douse the fire, his attacker, a seminary student, followed, strangling him to death. In March, a woman teacher of an all-girls’ school was killed with her throat slit by her colleague in Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, after two of the latter’s nieces, also students at the school, said that a relative had dreamt the victim had committed blasphemy.

Pakistan also witnessed the fallout of derogatory remarks made against Prophet Muhammad in June by leaders of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Five or six armed men entered a Hindu temple and desecrated it.

Pakistan’s transgender people faced threats to their identity during the period under review as opposition to the 2018 Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act which allows transgender Pakistanis to choose their gender as they see themselves grew. Those opposing the law, hailed globally when enacted, see it as a ‘threat to family’. As evidence of growing threats to transgender people, known as hijras and traditionally tolerated in the country, four trans-women were killed in September while 20 transgender people were killed in 2021.

During the period under review, discrimination of religious and ethnic minorities continued in Sri Lanka. In particular, families of those who disappeared during Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war that ended in 2009 continued to face surveillance, questioning, intimidation and unannounced visits by intelligence and police officers, and former cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam too continued to face intense surveillance, a United Nations report in October 2022 said. But with the change in regime in the country, following widespread protests from March to July as the country faced a worsening economic crisis, leading to the flight from the country of the-then President Gotabaya Rajapakshe in July, there are signs that the repression of minorities will be eased. For example, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, elected by parliament after his predecessor fled the country, has said that it would not continue the previous administration’s ‘one country, one law’ policy, and he celebrated the country’s ethnic and religious diversity in a speech to parliament in August. In the wake of the latest UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka that was passed with 20 votes for and seven against, with 20 member states abstaining he has noted that reconciliation is a priority and has appointed a cabinet subcommittee, presided over by himself to address the matter.

A bill to amend the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act, in place since 1979 and which allowed arbitrary detention, was passed by the parliament in March, allowing detainees to challenge their detention in court, giving detainees right to counsel and making it mandatory for the magistrate to visit detainees. But, according to the United Nations, the amendments do not fully comply with the country’s human rights obligations under international law and some of the most ‘problematic’ provisions of the act have not been addressed in the amendment.

During widespread protests across the country from March to July 2022, the country’s ethnic and religious and minorities joined hands with the majority groups demanding the ouster of the president in face of the growing economic crisis. However, the Tamil minority in the north and the east could not protest fearing retaliation as they have to face the military while protestors in the rest of the country are dealt with by police. Activists said that protests in the north and the east against the government was much rarer since security forces would not show restraint there the way they had in the capital and elsewhere in the country. Treatment by authorities depended on who the protestors were and where they were.

Despite President Wickremesinghe’s conciliatory words towards minorities, they are wary of him. Following the Easter bombings in 2019, in which 250 people were killed, Wickremesinghe, the-then Prime Minister had admitted that the Sri Lankan authorities had failed to act on a tip-off from Indian intelligence. Further, his current ascension to post has been made possible by the Buddhist-Sinhalese nationalists who dominate the parliament.

Many developmental policies and economic measures are proposed to take Sri Lanka out of its current economic crisis, but they are top-down measures that bypass the provincial council architecture that is a central demand of the minority communities. Furthermore, there are no signs that provincial council elections will be held.

During the economic crisis, dozens of Tamil families also left for the Indian state of Tamil Nadu after selling their possessions. Tensions between the majority Sinhalese-Buddhist and Tamil-Hindu communities continued to simmer during the period under review as evidenced by a court order in July to remove new constructions of a Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple in Mullaitivu district in Northern Province. In June, the army had facilitated the building of a Buddhist temple on the site.

With the Sri Lankan Penal code criminalising same-sex activity between consenting adults, the members of LGBTIA+ community have been denied their rights in the county. In March, the United Nations office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that this criminalisation means that ‘discrimination, violence and harassment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community in Sri Lanka will continue with impunity’ and called on decriminalisation of same-sexual sexual activity. A bill has been presented in parliament to decriminalise same-sex activity and President Wickremesinghe in September said that the government would not oppose the bill. But he also said it would be on the discretion of lawmakers on how they vote on the bill.