The South Asia Collective Online Bulletin #3

Main Page | Latest Developments in South Asia | SAC Impact Stories

In this section, our researchers in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka review major news developments between 15th July and 30th September, 2020, that have impacted or have the potential to impact the lives of South Asia's minorities.


During the period under review, Afghanistan’s official active COVID-19 caseload dropped from 11,444 to 5,021. The number of reported COVID-19 deaths rose up from 1,094 to 1,458. Simultaneously, peace talks with the Taliban have caused apprehension among the country’s civil society actors, particularly its minorities, and Afghanistan’s beleaguered Hindus and Sikhs continued their exodus to India mostly.

Major developments:

  1. On 12 September, the intra-Afghan peace process started in the Qatari capital of Doha, marking a potentially momentous milestone in Afghanistan’s post-Taliban (2001) history. The parties to the intra-Afghan peace negotiations include the Afghan government, different sections of Afghan people, and the Taliban. The talks had originally been slated to begin in March shortly after the US-Taliban peace agreement on February 29, 2020; however, they were repeatedly stalled amid disputes over the prisoners’ exchange that included the demand for release of five thousand Taliban fighters from Afghan detention facilities.

    Meanwhile, Afghan civil society activists, and human rights defenders are concerned about the gains of the last two decades that could be compromised in the ongoing talks with the Taliban. To ensure those achievements are preserved and everyone, including women, youth, minorities, and war victims are involved in the peace process, activists have called for inclusive engagement. On 16 September, Afghan civil society organizations gathered under the banner of ‘Afghanistan Mechanism for Inclusive Peace (AMIP)’ in Kabul to discuss the current peace talks. Over 500 participants from across the country were brought together by AMIP at the National Summit of Civil Society and Media to discuss various subjects related to the peace process, that produced a set of key recommendations for the negotiating parties. They also called on the Afghan government to pave the way for the country’s marginalized groups such as women, minorities, and victims of war to be represented in the peace talks. It is important to note that, the current intra-Afghan peace talks are largely dominated by the country’s largest ethnic groups. Marginalized communities, war victims, persons with disabilities, and youth representatives are absent.

  2. During the period under review, more Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan migrated to India, as a fallout of the series of attacks that the communities faced earlier this year.

    On August 11, 2020, a second cluster of Afghan Hindu-Sikh families left Afghanistan for India amid the growing security concerns and threats against the community, mainly from Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K). In August and September, some 200 members of the minority community were evacuated to India. Some of these families were relatives of 25 people who had been killed in an attack in March 2020. A first cluster had left Kabul late September 2020 and included Nidan Singh Sachdeva who was abducted from a gurdwara in Paktia province in June 2020.


During the period under review, Bangladesh’s official COVID-19 case load went up from 193,590 to 363,479. However, the official active caseload fell from 85,610 to 82,741, after peaking in between. Simultaneously, despite some positive developments, Bangladesh’s minority communities continued to face violent targeting.

Major developments:

  1. In September 2020, the High Court of Bangladesh gave a landmark verdict concerning Hindu women’s inheritance rights. The verdict allows Hindu widows to inherit shares in all properties of their husbands, including agricultural land. Earlier, they were entitled only to a share of homesteads and non-cultivable land. The HC verdict is a significant development for the rights of minority women, who exist as a marginalised minority community within a marginalised minority community.

    Yet, alongside this positive development, members of the Hindu community continued to face violent targeting in the country.

    On 17 September, five Hindu families in Brahmanbaria district came under attack, allegedly by locals associated with the ruling party. The victims have alleged that the motive of the attack is to evict the families from the land. The affected families are in fear of further attacks, and Hindu women in the area are reported to be harassed by the perpetrators.

  2. Bangladesh’s indigenous peoples community also continued to face targeting.

    A minor girl from the community was allegedly confined in church for three days and raped by the father of a Christian church in Rajshahi district. Instead of handing over the perpetrator to the law enforcement agencies, church authorities are alleged to have tried to settle the issue through internal mediation.

    Between July and September, Bangladesh’s indigenous peoples—of both the plains and the Chittagong Hill Tracts—are reported to have faced various types of violence amid the COVID-19 emergency. Kapaeeng Foundation reported that at least 25 indigenous women faced violence at the hands of members of the majority community. This included 10 instances of rape, 4 instances of gang rape, and 4 instances of sexual harassments. 17 cases of land grabbing were also reported during the period under review.

    In an instance of state-led targeting, the Forest Department conducted a drive to recover forest land from ‘illegal occupiers’. In the process, around 500 banana plants belonging to the Garo indigenous community in Madhupur in Tangail district were cut down. Members of the indigenous community have alleged that they were not given prior notice before the government action, that they are the original inhabitants of the land, and that they continue to be targeted and harassed by Forest Department officials.

  3. A ban on mobile networks inside Rohingya refugee camps, in place since September 2019, was lifted. The ban had been imposed after a large gathering by the Rohingya to mark the second anniversary of their forced exodus from Myanmar. Rohingya camps in Bangladesh have been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with at least 71 confirmed cases and 6 deaths.


During the period under review, India’s reported active COVID-19 caseload shot up from 331,505 infections to 941,552. By total number of reported cases, India is now the second-most affected country in the world, behind only the United States. The official death toll, widely acknowledged to be a gross undercount, crossed 100,000. Even as the pandemic showed some initial signs of easing, quarterly data for April to June—the height of the crippling lockdown that was imposed across the country—showed that the Indian economy had contracted by almost a fourth, leading to the loss of over 21 million salaried jobs.

Despite this humanitarian and economic crisis, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Indian government continued to use the cover of the pandemic to escalate its repression of dissent. Even as several courts across the country provided relief to journalists and activists targeted previously, fresh charges were pursued against many others, most notably against opponents of the Citizenship Amendment Act and dalit and Adivasi activists. Meanwhile freedoms continued to be denied in Kashmir, more than a year since revocation of the region’s autonomy. The first parliamentary session since onset of COVID was used to push through several anti-democratic, anti-poor legislations, while government further sharpened it majoritarian edge. The following is a roundup of major developments between 15 July and 30 September affecting India’s minorities directly or indirectly:

  1. In the first parliamentary session since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BJP government enacted amendments to the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act (FCRA), the law that regulates foreign funding for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the country. Observers have noted that the harsh new provisions—which would, among other things, hamper NGO registrations, salaries and the transfer of funds to grassroots entities—would be the ‘death knell’ for the country’s non-profit sector.

  2. Closely on the heels of the new amendment, Amnesty International’s India unit announced that it would shut down its operations in the country, citing a ‘witch hunt’ by the government over its alleged violations of FCRA regulations. A month earlier, Amnesty had released a report accusing police forces of acting in coordination with Hindutva mobs and committing human rights violations during the anti-Muslim violence in Delhi in February. Amnesty had also urged the Indian government to release all political prisoners in Kashmir, and to resume high-speed internet services in the region.

  3. The role of social media giant Facebook in perpetuating anti-Muslim online hate in India came under the scanner after a Wall Street Journal report revealed that the company’s top officials in India heavily favoured the BJP, to the extent of ignoring repeated instances of hate speech by its leaders. After an outcry among the company’s international employees, Facebook banned T Raja Singh, a BJP legislator who has made several Islamophobic statements. Facebook has refused to appear before a Delhi state assembly panel seeking to investigate company officials’ complicity in the Delhi violence.

  4. Below is a detailing of the targeting of specific minority groups:


  5. During the period under review, Documentation of the Oppressed (DOTO), recorded 23 instances of targeting of Muslims across the country. These included, apart from the cases in Uttar Pradesh, two more instances of lynching in Reasi and Jammu, both in Jammu & Kashmir. Other violent incidents were reported from Haryana’s Panipat, where a Muslim man had his hand chopped off, in an incident that the man claims was religiously motivated. Also in Haryana, a Muslim man accused of smuggling beef in Gurgaon was brutally assaulted by a mob as policemen looked on. In Rajasthan, an elderly rickshaw driver was assaulted after he refused to chant slogans extolling PM Modi and Hindu gods.

  6. On 5th August 2020, on the first anniversary of the abrogation of the autonomy of Muslim majority Jammu & Kashmir, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the construction of a Hindu temple at the site of the demolished Babri mosque in Ayodhya. He was accompanied by the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological base of the BJP, whose purported aim is to turn India into a Hindu Rashtra (nation). Babri Masjid has been a bone of contention between Hindus and Muslims for deacdes. Last year, while holding the demolition of the mosque in 1992 by a violent Hindu mob to be illegal, India’s Supreme Court (SC) had unanimously awarded the site to Hindus, who consider the site to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, a Hindu deity. The construction of a Ram Temple at the site has been a long-cherished goal of Hindu nationalists.

    In a separate case, a lower court acquitted all 32 persons accused of conspiring to demolish the mosque in 1992. Among those acquitted was LK Advani, a senior BJP leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, who had led the nation-wide campaign that culminated in the destruction of the mosque. Emboldened by these developments, especially in courts, Hindu groups have been litigating to ‘reclaim’ other historical mosques that they claim were temples.

    The foundation stone ceremony in Ayodhya led to further communal tensions in north-eastern Delhi, an area in the national capital that had already witnessed large-scale violence in February this year. Three reporters covering the tensions in the area, including a woman, were harassed, abused and assaulted by a Hindu mob. The woman was also allegedly sexually assaulted.

  7. Delhi Police filed its report of investigation in the Delhi riots case, charging a total of 15 persons for engaging in a ‘large-scale conspiracy’ to engineer the violence in north-eastern Delhi in February 2020, invoking notably the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), India’s principal anti-terror law. In another charge sheet, and based on ‘disclosure statements’ that it claimed to have obtained from those under custody, Police named several prominent activists and academics as having ‘encouraged’ and ‘mentored’ violent protesters. In the three-day episode of violence in February 2020, a total of 53 persons—including 40 Muslims—had lost their lives. While the police have charged anti-CAA protesters exercising their right to speech and peaceful assembly, senior BJP leaders who had incited the violence have not been investigated – the police have even dismissed such accusations as a ‘false narrative’. Police have also been accused of complicity in the targeting of anti-CAA protesters and Muslims widely.

  8. Uttar Pradesh (UP), a province ruled by the BJP’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, witnessed several instances of minorities and minority and human rights defenders being targeted.

    The Allahabad High Court ordered the release of and revocation of charges against Dr. Kafeel Khan, a prominent voice against the CAA. Khan had been arrested in January 2020 for making an allegedly inflammatory speech. After securing bail, Khan had been charged under the draconian National Security Act (NSA), which provides for preventive detention for up to 12 months. The Court observed that Khan’s speech in fact gave ‘a call for national integrity and unity among the citizens’.

    In Mau district, the NSA was invoked against five anti-CAA protesters. At least 13 anti-CAA protesters in the state have had the NSA invoked against them so far. Sumaiyya Rana, an anti-CAA activist and daughter of noted Urdu poet Munawwar Rana, was placed under house arrest for calling for a protest outside the Chief Minister’s residence. Uzma Parveen, another female anti-CAA activist, was also put under house arrest.

    During the period under review, the UP government further bolstered its infrastructure for repression. It notified the creation of a special security force that would have the power to search any premises or arrest any person without a warrant or a court order. The UP government is also reportedly mulling an ordinance against ‘love jihad’, an alleged conspiracy by Muslim men to convert Hindu women by promising marriage. The ‘Love jihad’ trope, along with cow slaughter, has provided the context for much of the anti-Muslim vigilante violence seen in the state in recent years.

  9. In Muslim-majority Kashmir, of 5 August, the first anniversary of the revocation of the region’s limited autonomy, a group of United Nations-appointed independent experts remarked that the human rights situation in the erstwhile state has been in ‘free fall’. Later, on 15 August—India’s Independence Day—as Kashmir remained under a complete movement lockdown with limited internet, PM Modi proclaimed that the region was enjoying the benefits of its new status as a Union Territory (UT). This was as a new report revealed that over the past year, Kashmir has seen 346 killings, including that of 73 civilians.

    Among the latest instances of civilians being killed was the killing of a 45-year-old woman who was shot dead in Srinagar by security forces as she was travelling in a car with her son. In another incident, three young men—including a 16 year old—were killed in Shopian by security forces, dubbed militants and buried in a graveyard far from their homes. DNA testing revealed that the men, who were initially described as ‘unidentified terrorists’, were from families in Rajouri, a different district. In a rare admission of wrongdoing, the Indian Army stated that it had exceeded powers vested in it under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, a draconian law that protects security forces from accountability in designated ‘disturbed areas’ like Kashmir.

    In another incident, Babar Qadri, a lawyer known for being critical of the policies of both the Indian and Pakistani governments in Kashmir, was shot dead by unknown gunmen.

    At least six BJP leaders were also killed or attacked in Kashmir during the period under review.

    Indian security forces also opened fire—with ‘pellet guns’—at Shia mourners during a Muharram procession. At least 40 injuries and 200 detentions were reported in the police action.

    Hundreds of Kashmiris from all walks of life remain in detention as political prisoners. Ordinary Kashmiris continued to be charged under stringent anti-terror laws for innocuous reasons including, recently, organising a cricket match. Freedom of speech remained severely curtailed, with access to high-speed 4G internet remaining restricted in all but two districts. And there have been several reports of cyber police summoning, harassing and threatening civilians and journalists for their social media posts.

    During the period under review, the government also passed the J&K Official Languages Bill, which includes Hindi—a language that is barely spoken in the region—in the UT’s list of official languages, in a move that locals fear would threaten their own language and script. The UT administration has also issued over 1.8 million domicile certificates over the past 4 months, fuelling fears of a demographic invasion by outsiders.

    India was recently pulled up by Michele Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, for its various restrictions and violations in Kashmir.

  10. Elsewhere, hate, incitement and discriminatory targeting continued to be directed at Muslims. Sudarshan TV, a Hindi television channel whose chief editor is a self-professed member of the RSS, aired two episodes out of a planned nine episode series accusing Muslims of ‘infiltrating’ the country’s top civil services. After initially refusing to impose a pre-broadcast ban, the SC stepped in and ordered a stay on the remaining episodes, terming the programme as ‘rabid’, ‘without any factual basis’ and ‘vilifying the Muslim community’. The case, which is still being heard, has led to debates about free speech and the need for regulation of India’s raucous television channels, which often champion causes close to the ruling dispensation. The central government suggested to the SC that any move towards regulation should begin with digital media. Unlike television and print media, digital media in India is a vibrant space where the government’s actions are routinely questioned.

  11. Members of the Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic missionary movement that faced a targeted vilification campaign after several of its followers were found to have contracted COVID-19 in March, were absolved by various courts. Across the country, over 3500 Jamaat members, including many foreigners, had been detained and charged with violating visa norms, disobeying government directions and, in some instances, even attempted murder. In a stern rebuke, the Bombay High Court (HC) accused the government of making the Jamaat members ‘scapegoats’, and quashed FIRs that were lodged against 29 foreigners and six Indians. HCs in Madras and Karnataka too had issued similar orders. The HC orders led to various lower-level courts following suit.

  12. Deadly riots broke out in Bangalore, India’s tech capital, after a post allegedly blasphemous to Prophet Mohammed was published on Facebook by the relative of a Congress Party legislator. In the violence that followed, vehicles and buildings were set on fire by angry crowds. At least three people were killed after security forces opened fire with live ammunition. A joint fact-finding mission by several Bangalore-based CSOs, however, found ‘a lack of substantial evidence to suggest that the mob violence was communal in nature’.

  13. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested nine alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Kerala and West Bengal, in the process foiling what it claimed would have been a major terror attack. A preliminary fact-finding mission by the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) found that all nine were ‘non-political’ Muslim labourers from families mired in poverty.

  14. Christians:

  15. During the period under review, documented 61 instances of targeting of Christians. These included 20 instances of Christians being physically assaulted, 11 instances of Christians—including pastors—being arrested or detained, and one case of sexual assault. The Home Ministry also suspended the FCRA licenses of six Christian NGOs, in a move that Christian activists have described as ‘targeted bigotry’.

  16. Dalit-Adivasis:

  17. The NIA made four further arrests in the Bhima Koregaon case, an alleged conspiracy by a group of activists and intellectuals to stoke violence at a celebratory gathering by Dalits in January 2018, and for allegedly plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The newly arrested included a Delhi University professor, and three members of a Dalit and working-class protest music troupe. The four join a group of 11 prominent activists who were already in custody in connection with the case. On 9th October 2020, Stan Swamy, a Christian missionary known for devoting his life to the betterment of the Adivasi community in Jharkhand state, was the latest to be arrested. None have faced trial so far. Several more academics and activists have been summoned by the NIA for questioning.

  18. Uttar Pradesh is a particularly hostile land for Dalits and Adivasis. Latest numbers from the National Crime Records Bureau revealed that Uttar Pradesh alone accounted for 25 per cent of the total number of hate crimes perpetrated against Dalits in the country in 2019.

    Prashant Kanojia, a Dalit journalist, was arrested for a tweet that allegedly ‘disrupted communal harmony’. Kanojia was arrested last year as well, for tweets criticising Adityanath.

    UP also reported several instances of young Dalit women being targeted. In Hathras district, in a case that has captured national attention, a 19-year-old Dalit girl was allegedly raped and brutalised by four so-called upper caste men. The girl, who succumbed to her injuries two weeks later, had named her attackers and detailed the attack, but UP authorities have insisted—including via a public relations firm—that the girl was not raped. Visuals showed the body of the girl being forcibly cremated by police officers, in the dark of night, with the family locked inside their house. Authorities have also attempted to cordon off the village where the incident took place, and stop journalists and political leaders seeking to meet the girl’s family. So-called upper castes in the village and surrounding villages have rallied in support of the alleged attackers. Meanwhile, the UP government has alleged an ‘international conspiracy’ against it over its handling of the case.

    Several other similar incidents were reported from the area around the same time, including from Bhadohi, Bulandshahr, Balrampur and Azamgarh, underlining how endemic sexual violence against Dalit women is in the state.

    During the period under review, an elected Dalit pradhan (village chief) in Azamgarh district’s Bansgaon village was shot dead by so-called upper caste men who resented his position of power.

  19. Apart from the incidents in Uttar Pradesh, several other instances of violent targeting of Dalits were reported during the period under review. Devji Maheshwari, a senior Dalit lawyer and activist, was stabbed to death in Gujarat’s Kutch district. Maheshwari was allegedly targeted over his social media posts critical of the notion of caste supremacy.

  20. Sikhs:

  21. In the first instance of the use of a new clause in the UAPA that allows the government to declare any individual as a terrorist and seize their property before proving their guilt before a court of law, properties in Punjab belonging to two US-based Sikh individuals was attached by the government. The two individuals are allegedly part of a global campaign seeking to hold a referendum asking for a separate Khalistan nation to be carved out of India’s Punjab state.


During the period under review, Nepal’s active COVID-19 caseload shot up from 6,113 to 20,891. The number of reported deaths rose from 39 to 498. Since the country-wide lockdown imposed in March to curb the spread of Covid-19, there have been continued restrictions on mobility, livelihoods, and access to resources in one form or another in Nepal. While people from all walks of life have suffered due to the minimal presence and support of the government in this situation, Dalits as well as sexual and religious minorities have suffered the most. In some instances, religious minorities and Dalits have been accused of spreading the virus, and in many cases such minorities have been negatively profiled due to their identity. Cases of rape and murder of Dalit women, unprovoked attacks on Dalit youth, and custodial deaths of minorities have continued to become national news, and action has been taken against the perpetrators only following public outcry. Unsurprisingly, the Universal Periodic Review of Nepal 2020 details that prosecution and punishment against those perpetrating human rights abuses in Nepal is less than 5 per cent.

Major developments

    Religious minorities:

  1. Christians in Kathmandu still face issues in finding burial ground for their deceased. Reportedly, some Christians have had to take their deceased relatives to cities hundreds of kilometres away, only to find that burial grounds were full. Some churches in Kathmandu bought land in the outskirts for burials, but faced local resistance, with locals digging up the bodies buried, if the church managed to hold a burial at all.

  2. Human rights defenders are worried that government authorities are using the pandemic as a cover for the arbitrary arrests and denial of fundamental rights of religious minorities. Such a fear is not unfounded when one takes into account the lack of polarised response towards Hindu practices, as seen when their defiance of lockdown did not meet with resistance from the authorities.

  3. There have also been reports of a clash between youths of Hindu and Muslim communities in Dhanusha district in Province 2 over the alleged throwing of garbage by Muslims in an under-construction temple of Shiva, a revered god of the Hindus. While the situation was brought under control due to timely police intervention, there are reports of religious minorities in Nepal, specifically Muslims, worrying that rising Islamophobia in India could seep into Nepal from across the border.

  4. Women and sexual minorities:

  5. Earlier this year, the all-male members of the Secretariat of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) had decided to grant naturalised citizenship to foreign women married to Nepali men after seven years of residence in Nepal. The Bill met with public outrage not only because it increased the time period required for the foreign women to live in Nepal to gain citizenship from the earlier zero to seven years, but also because it failed to grant the same privilege to foreign men married to Nepali women. On 21 September 2020, UN experts, including the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequence, wrote to the Nepali government expressing serious concern over the discriminatory provisions against women, transgender, and gender-diverse persons in the bill. They specifically pointed out that the Bill would continue to discriminate systematically against women, specifically regarding their ability to transmit citizenship through marriage and to their children.

  6. Violence against women has been on the rise, specifically during the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In separate incidents in Siraha, Nepalgunj, Dhanusha, Mahottari, and Lamjung, in the past three months, several women, specifically minorities, widowed, and elderly, have been physically assaulted on the accusation of witchcraft. The police have arrested the alleged perpetrators in only two of the cases and have already released the suspect in one case due to alleged political pressure. Dalit women have also continued to be sexually abused and violated brutally, with the alleged rape and subsequent murder of a 12-year-old Dalit girl by an ‘upper caste’ boy on 23 September though the police arrested the ‘upper-caste’ rapist who confessed a week later amidst growing public pressure. On 4 September, the Supreme Court acknowledged an unprecedented rise in crimes against women during the pandemic worldwide and ordered the government to immediately start online case registration and hearing for victims of gender and domestic violence. This is yet to come to fruition.

  7. The LGBTIQ community continues to remain more vulnerable than most during the pandemic. Their inability to access critical hormonal medication reported early on in the pandemic has persisted, as has their need to isolate alongside family members who do not accept their sexual orientation and gender identity, or to move back to unsafe domestic spaces. Sexual minorities, who mostly have to resort to work at bars and nightclubs, or as sex workers, have also remained deprived of work. Reportedly, there are around 500 transgender individuals in the capital, Kathmandu, who depend fully on commercial sex work. With the number of Covid-19 cases rising rapidly in Nepal, sex work is unlikely to resume anytime soon, and even if it does, people are very likely to remain cautious for the foreseeable future. While this means an uncertain future for many, some have reportedly already gone back to work disregarding safety precautions as they lack alternatives for survival. Civil society organisations working on sexual and reproductive rights had urged the governments at federal, provincial and local levels to ensure that quarantine sites established are friendly to gender and sexual minority groups although no action has been taken in this regard yet.

  8. Dalits:

  9. Sustained violence against Dalits continued in this period as well. On 16 August, the manager of a hotel in Dolpa district in Karnali Province, was arrested on the charge of not letting a Dalit woman touch the kitchen of the hotel. Also, in August, some youths of a Dalit settlement in Kailali were brutally beaten by a group of ‘upper-caste’ youths. In another act of impunity and caste-based vigilante action, an ‘upper-caste’ man hired goons to beat up five people of a Dalit family in Morang over a water pipeline dispute.

    In a case that gained national prominence, a national-level female athlete was attacked by her neighbours in Jhapa for raising her voice against an injustice towards a Dalit man. A Dalit herself, and seven-months pregnant, the athlete said that she believed her stature would have made her immune to caste-based discrimination: ‘I thought I had finally passed the caste barrier prevalent in Nepali society. But the recent incident came as a rude reminder that despite my achievements, the society will always look at me as a Dalit, unshielded and exposed to caste-based violence every day’.

    Dalit returnees from India who have tested positive for Covid-19 are reported to be facing double discrimination, even in cases when they have recovered and tested negative. Family members of Dalit returnees have been shunned, exacerbating worries of sustaining their livelihoods. Dalit individuals in quarantine also reported getting less food, and being ignored when they asked for hot water and lunch, which the ‘upper castes’ in quarantine were receiving.

  10. Civil rights and journalists:

  11. There have been several instances of harassment of and violence against journalists in the country in the period under review. Several journalists have reported receiving death threats and facing harassment for reporting on financial irregularities and malpractices and corruption, including maltreatment by the police. The Federation of Nepali Journalists, Kailali, staged a sit-in in September at the entrance of the District Administration Office to protest against physical abuse and harassment of journalists.

  12. Earlier this year, two journalists identified 18 custodial deaths in Nepal from June 2015 to June 2020, of which, 12 individuals belonged to the marginalised Dalit, Madhesi, or Janajati communities. Similar cases have been reported in the time period under review as well. On August 16, the police arrested a Madhesi youth in Rautahat, along with 10 others over their alleged involvement in a murder that took place a day earlier. On mid-night of 26 August, the youth’s family was told that he died while receiving treatment for a kidney ailment at National Medical College, Birgunj. His family maintained that he did not have any health issues prior to his imprisonment, and that he had been tortured in custody. This is validated in June 2019 by Advocacy Forum, a human rights organisation, which found that people from ethnic communities in the Tarai are more prone to torture and misbehaviour from the police. According to the report, 30.4 per cent of detainees from the plains reported abuse in police custody, 8.2 per cent higher than the national average. Likewise, only 1.7 percent of Brahmins reported abuse, in contrast to 30.5 per cent Dalits who alleged the same. Female detainees, too, reported mistreatment with 23.1 percent stating that they had been abused.


During the period under review, Pakistan’s active COVID-19 caseload came considerably under control, dropping from 77,573 to 8,903. The number of COVID-19 related deaths went up from 5,386 to 6,479. Simultaneously, a case of sexual assault caught national attention, several censorship laws came into place, and there was a widespread and alarming rise of anti-Shia sentiment.

Major developments

Religious minorities:

  1. A Pakistani court sentenced Pervaiz, a Christian man, to death on 10 September after finding him guilty of blasphemy. Pervaiz was accused of blasphemy by a Muslim supervisor in the hosiery factory where he worked. During his trial, Pervaiz claimed he was accused after he refused to convert to Islam. Prosecutors, however, submitted evidence that Mr. Pervaiz sent text messages that contained insulting remarks against Prophet Mohammed, according to a court document. The accuser denied pressuring Mr. Pervaiz to change his religion.

    Also on 10 September, a Hindu man in Sindh was accused of blasphemy for allegedly insulting the Prophet. People immediately blocked a highway demanding the arrest of the Hindu man. The man was accused of saying to a worker employed by him: ‘Prophet Muhammad also used to do all work by his own hands, why don't you?’

  2. There were also instances of abduction, forced conversion and marriage of minority girls, a chronic issue in parts of the country.

    A 16-year-old Christian girl in Faizalabad was allegedly abducted by a 30-year-old Muslim man while on her way to church. The girl’s family, who have identified the abductor and fear that she would be forcibly converted and married to him, have alleged that the police refused to help them. While an official complaint has finally been accepted, the girl has still not been returned to her family.

    Another Christian girl in Faisalabad, a 14-year-old who was allegedly abducted by a group of Muslim men in April and forced into marriage, escaped from the clutches of her husband. The girl has filed a series of charges against her alleged abductor, including rape and blackmail.

  3. There was active anti-Shia mobilization and persecution across the country.

  4. In September, tens of thousands of people held major anti-Shia protests in Karachi and Islamabad. Protesters were seen raising chants of ‘Shias are Kafir’ (disbelievers/infidels) and holding banners in support of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, a terrorist organisation, linked to the killing of Shias over the years.

    Following the protests, Bilal Farooqi, a senior journalist who covers sectarian violence, was arrested. According to the contents of the FIR reviewed by Dawn, the complainant, found ‘highly objectionable material’ being shared by Farooqi on Facebook and Twitter. The complainant claimed that ‘highly provocative posts’ had been shared by Farooqi against the Pakistan Army and that the same also contained material pertaining to religious hatred. Farooqi was later released by the police upon the personal guarantee of his lawyer.

    Since the beginning of Muharram, several Shia Muslims have been attacked for reciting religious scriptures and partaking in Ashura commemorations. According to news reports and activists, more than 42 people, mainly Shias and Christians, were arrested in just the month of August for blasphemy.

  5. There was a surge in cases of blasphemy, and resultant extra-judicial killings.

    Tahir Ahmed Naseem, a man accused of blasphemy for claiming that he was a prophet, was shot dead in a courtroom in the north-western city of Peshawar on 26 July. He was shot six times during a hearing in his case at a district court. Naseem was an Ahmadi by faith and reportedly had a mental illness. Khalid Khan, the killer, was immediately glorified as a hero by several Pakistanis, and also by some state officials, including the ruling party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI) Haleem Adil Sheikh, who had apparently put up the killer’s photo on Facebook with a showering petals filter. He later said on Twitter: ‘This is to clarify, I personally don’t manage my Facebook accounts. This was posted without my knowledge or consent.’

    Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) leader Ahmad Ludhianvi announced in front of a rally that the party had filed more than 300 blasphemy cases during the last 8 months across the country. This included around 150 cases in Punjab in the month of Muharram only, and around 200 cases in Sindh.

  6. During the period under review, Pakistan witnessed some major attempts at censorship. Willy nilly, they affect religious minorities the most.

    The Punjab Tuhafuzz-e-Bunyaad-e-Islam Act, a new Bill, was introduced in the Punjab Assembly, seeking restrictions on the publication of books (and other materials) that are deemed immoral, blasphemous or anti-state. Punjab legislators across the divide rejected the Bill and demanded that the government make amendments and hold a fresh debate over it. They have also demanded the formation of a committee comprising members of the House and Ulema to review the Bill before it becomes an Act.

    The Bill led to a warning from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), which noted that existing laws already penalise racial and sectarian hate speech, and that the intent underlying the new legislation is ‘akin to the antiquated practice of ‘book-burning’. The HRCP remarked that there is ‘ample reason’ to expect that provisions in the Bill would be ‘used to target religious minorities and sects.’ The HCRP also noted with concern ‘a critical review’ by the Punjab Curriculum and Textbook Board of 10,000 books taught by private schools across the province. At least 100 books have already been banned.

    Other censorship attempts included the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2020, introduced in parliament by a member of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Party, seeking to make intentionally ridiculing and defaming Pakistan’s Armed Forces a punishable crime. The Bill prescribes a hefty fine, or a two year prison term, or both, for those found guilty.

    Meanwhile, Pakistan’s minority and internet rights activists have noted an ‘unprecedented’ rise in online hate speech and sectarian attacks against minorities. Concerted and vitriolic online campaigns, including some that threaten violence, have been seen in recent weeks against Pakistan’s ethnic Hazara Shias, Ahmadis and Hindus.

    Pakistan’s women journalists too have complained about a recent spike in online harassment and vilification, particularly from supporters of the ruling party.

  7. Some prominent cases of violence against women became a source of mobilization and protest in Pakistan:

    On September 7, a woman who was driving late at night on the Lahore-Sialkot motorway, was raped and robbed by two men, in front of her children.

    The woman, who had run out of fuel in her car, had called a relative and the motorway police for help. The police, however, did not respond as the location was outside their jurisdiction. The incident took place as the family was waiting for the relative. Two days later, Lahore’s police chief publicly questioned why a mother of three travelling alone at night did not choose a ‘safer’ road: ‘If she had decided to travel via motorway, she should have checked her fuel tank because there were no petrol pumps on that route.’ In a later interview, he claimed his statement had been ‘distorted,’ but maintained his view.

    Following the incident, a large number of citizens took to the streets in different cities of the country to demand justice and structural reform. The organisers of the Aurat March protests — in Islamabad, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar and Karachi — set forth five demands including an end to violence, affirmative steps by the government to uphold rights and ensure justice, accountability from the police officer who had made the flippant remark—and any other official who blames victims—structural and procedural reforms, and effective and transparent investigations by the criminal justice system. The incident has been likened to the Delhi Nirbhaya case of 2012 which propelled state wide reforms and discourse on sexual violence in India.

    A day before the Lahore incident, the body of a 5-year-old girl was recovered from Karachi's Old Sabzi Mandi area, two days after she was reported to have gone missing. The girl was allegedly kidnapped and raped before being murdered and torched. The incident angered residents of the area, who staged a protest after her burial. There was also widespread outpouring of anger over the incident on social media.

Sri Lanka

During the period under review, Sri Lanka’s active COVID-19 caseload went down from 669 to 137 (a subsequent spike has pushed the number above 1,500). Deaths have been contained at 13 – a much lower figure compared to the rest of the region.

However, the period saw further consolidation of power by the Sri Lankan government, with the People’s Freedom Alliance scoring a landslide victory in parliamentary elections. Further developments and statements seemed to confirm that the government would not be particularly reconciliatory towards the country’s marginalised Tamil community. Below is a round-up of major developments between 15 July and 30 September that concerned the lives of Sri Lanka’s minorities.

Major developments

  1. While there have been no reports of community transmission of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka, there has been a recent spike of cases from those arriving on repatriation flights from the Middle East and other countries in the Gulf. On 14 September, Sri Lanka recorded its 13th COVID-19 related death, a much lower figure compared to the rest of the region. However, a large number of Sri Lankan migrant workers remain stuck abroad, some of whom have been reported to have contracted the disease. Official figures have put the number of Sri Lankan workers who have died of COVID-19 abroad at 47.

    Inside the country, farmers continued to reel from the economic impact of the pandemic. Despite promises from government officials, payments to farmers who have been impacted by COVID have not been properly distributed. There were also reports of homeless people – some stranded in the capital Colombo when the curfew was put in place – who have died while stranded on the streets. Care for homeless elders in particular is handled by the National Secretariat for Elders and the Department of Social Services. However, the Department has introduced a new policy during COVID for the shelters it operates for these elders. Shelter will not be provided to anyone seeking such facilities without a PCR [polymerase chain reaction] test due to the high risk involved. Government hospitals currently prioritise conducting PCR tests on people suspected of COVID-19, or those who have shown symptoms of the virus—tests are not conducted on demand. This and other obstacles can only be circumvented if a social service officer intervenes—then a PCR test can be carried out at a government hospital free of charge. Still, several homeless people have fallen through the cracks, and died during the curfew.

  2. The Sri Lanka People's Freedom Alliance coalition – comprised of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party - claimed a landslide victory in the parliamentary general elections, winning 145 seats. The Samagi Jana Balawegaya won 54 seats, Tamil National Alliance won 10 seats and the Jathika Jana Balawegaya won 3 seats. The main opposition United National Party suffered the worst showing in its history following a split over party leadership, finishing in fourth place with only one seat.

    In the new Cabinet, there are four members from the Rajapaksa family, one woman, one Tamil, 23 Buddhists, and only one member each from the Hindu, Christian and Muslim communities. There are no individuals identifying as being from the LGBTIQ community, and 25 members are above 50 years of age. There is no Ministry dedicated to Women’s Affairs that now come under the purview of the Ministry of Education, with only a state level minister to be the focal point.

    The Ape Janabala Pakshaya, constituted mostly of Buddhist monks, won one seat, and this will be taken up by Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thero through the National List. Gnanasara, through another organization named the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) has spread misinformation, hate speech and incited violence towards minority communities in Sri Lanka over the last decade.

  3. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa delivered his policy statement at the inaugural session of the new Parliament. Some key points addressed included the protection of the unitary status of the country, the protection and nurturing of the Buddha Sasana, the primary policy of national security, the building of a production economy, and the issuing of land deeds to those without them. Rajapaksa made no commitments in his speech to foster reconciliation or co-existence between ethnic groups. The nod to the unitary status of Sri Lanka also runs counter to decades of advocacy and campaigning by Tamil leaders and politicians for federal status, with more powers devolved to local councils.

  4. In a virtual summit held with Prime Minister Rajapaksa, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that ‘implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution is essential for carrying forward the process of peace and reconciliation’.

    The 13th Amendment is an outcome of the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, signed in an attempt to resolve Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict that was then a full-fledged civil war. The Amendment led to the creation of Provincial Councils, assuring a power sharing arrangement to enable all nine provinces in the country, including Sinhala majority areas, to self-govern. Subjects such as education, health, agriculture, housing, land and police are devolved to the provincial administrations. However, restrictions on financial powers and overriding powers given to the President have kept the provincial administrations from making progress.

    Within Sri Lanka’s Parliament, opinions remain divided. While most Tamil MPs from the North and East stand by the importance of the Amendment, several Sinhala MPs claim it is still up for debate and reform, while others reject it altogether. While most, especially Tamil parties, agree that the provisions of power-sharing in the Amendment are piecemeal, it remains the one solution to the Tamil call for self-determination, and ensures that power remains devolved, to some extent, away from the Executive at the centre.

  5. The proposed 20th Amendment (20A) to the Constitution will restore all Executive powers of the President which were earlier scaled down. Some key points in the draft Amendment propose the replacement of the Constitutional Council with a Parliamentary Council with diminished powers, allowing dual citizens to sit in Parliament, the reinstatement of urgent bills put forth by the President and requiring no debate, Procurement and Audit commissions, and empowering the President to make crucial appointments.

    Many presidential hopefuls, Rajapaksa aside, had promised through the years to abolish this Executive Presidency, but none acted on these promises once elected.

    Tamil National Alliance MP MA Sumanthiran writes that ‘Tamil people opposed the Executive Presidency both for its centralisation of power and also for its corrupting influence on democracy’, stating the community’s experience is that ‘when democracy is undermined, it is the minorities who are adversely impacted and victimised the first and the most’.

    A total of 39 Special Determination petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court against the 20th Amendment, by lawyers, civil society organisations, political parties and citizens. The Court began hearing these on September 29th.

  6. A Parliamentary Group approved a proposal to ban cattle slaughter in the country, though foreign imports would be allowed. While most Buddhists in Sri Lanka do not consume beef, it is consumed widely in the Muslim and Christian communities. For several decades now, Buddhist monks and nationalist Sinhala groups have used this factor to demonise these two communities. This decision therefore, was interpreted by many as being an extension of the current government’s ‘one country, one law’ goal, where practices and laws adhering solely to minority communities are done away with, under the guise of ‘unity’.

    There was a spectrum of responses to this claim, and soon after the Cabinet Spokesperson told the media of a decision to postpone the ban, pending discussion with several relevant groups. However, on September 29th, the Cabinet approved Prime Minister Rajapaksa’s proposal to ban cattle slaughter.

  7. Newly-appointed Justice Minister Ali Sabry stated reforms to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) need to be expedited. Simultaneously, MP Premitha Tennekoon handed over a Private Member’s Bill to Cabinet to raise the minimum age of marriage – for individuals of all communities – to 18. Minimum age of marriage is one of many reforms that groups led by Muslim women have been advocating for decades. MPLRAG, among others, welcomed both these actions.

    Members of the Jathika Jana Balawegaya, an opposition party, also claimed that they would give a chance to the current government to prove its commitment to reforming the MMDA, and would seek to take action of their own if there was no progress.

  8. The families of the disappeared in the North East sent a letter to the UNHRC, calling on the international community to ‘accelerate the process to proclaim a meaning justice’ in an ‘appropriate and timely manner’.

    International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, marked on August 30th, was commemorated widely across the Northern and Eastern provinces. There was a rally in Kilinochchi, and a protest in Jaffna as well.

    Batticaloa Police obtained a court order against a protest by families of the disappeared, scheduled to take place in the town. In spite of this, and even when Police attempted to block their path and lock them in the premises of a church, protestors continued onwards. Videos from media outlets at the event show interviews with a protestor who said police grabbed the photo of her loved one that she was carrying in the march. Another protestor said police threatened that if they kept walking, they would be ‘seen to’.

  9. In a sign of increasing militarisation, Sarath Weerasekara, a former Read Admiral and current State Minister in the new Government, said in Parliament that military-occupied land with tactical importance would never be given back to people. He justifies this in interest of national security and the national economy.

    Weerasekara added that although land has been given back, these important areas would not be released so long as politicians with ‘separatist agendas’ remained in power, referring specifically to MP and former Governor of the Northern Province, C.V Wigneswaran.

  10. 10. The Jaffna Magistrate court banned commemorative events for Thileepan, a former LTTE colonel, who died in September 1987 following a hunger strike protesting the failure of the Indian government to honour commitments made to Sri Lankan Tamils.

    The order was made on claims made by Police that the presence of foreigners at the event was a likely COVID transmission risk. When lawyers sought to intervene, Police claimed that so long as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was in effect, fallen LTTE cadres could not be commemorated. Former Member of Parliament M.K Sivajilingam was arrested for organising what was deemed an illegal commemoration.

    Hunger strikes were organised in response to the ban. In turn, the Point Pedro Magistrate Court passed an order attempting to ban the hunger strike, but they continued in many locations, with intimidation from the security forces. The Northern and Eastern provinces shut down on September 28th in protest against the ban. Across districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya, Mannar, Mullaitivu and Batticaloa, shops remained closed and streets remained empty. The hartal is possibly the widest civic protest since the change of government in November last year.

    There were also reports from Mullaitivu and Vavuniya that Police had taken to intimidating shop owners in these districts to open up their businesses. Some shops were forced to open under threats from the military.

  11. The report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, based on his visit to Sri Lanka in 2017, was a part of submissions in the ongoing September - October 2020 UN sessions. This was a recap of issues undertaken between the start of the ‘Yahapalanaya’ government in 2015 and his 2017 visit.

    The Rapporteur noted that despite the opportunities for genuine change, the Government failed to adopt and implement a comprehensive transitional justice policy with the four constitutive elements of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, with progress has been hindered by a lack of commitment. His submission noted that Sri Lanka appeared to have ‘missed an historic opportunity to provide lessons to the world about how sustainable peace ought to be achieved’.

  12. At the 45th session of the UNHRC, UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French on behalf of the Sri Lanka Core group, said that the Sri Lankan Government has stated its continuing commitment to fostering reconciliation, justice and peaceful coexistence among Sri Lanka’s diverse communities via a new domestic process. The Group noted that previous such processes have, regrettably, proved insufficient to tackle impunity and deliver real reconciliation.

    The Core Group reiterated its profound disappointment at the new government’s decision to withdraw support for UNHRC Resolution 30/1. It also noted the difficulty facing civil society and human rights groups under the Rajapaksa regime, due to surveillance

    In a pre-recorded statement at the High-Level Meeting to Commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations, Gotabaya Rajapaksa stated that Sri Lanka expected ‘the United Nation will place due emphasis on non-interference in domestic affairs of other states’.

    In her opening statement at the 45th HRC sessions, UNHCHR Michelle Bachelet called on the council to give ‘renewed attention to Sri Lanka’, where ‘the new Government is swiftly reneging on its commitments to the Human Rights Council since it withdrew its support for resolution 30/1’.

    Bachelet cited the proposed 20th amendment to the Constitution and its likely negative impact on the independence of key institutions. She raised concern with the pardon given in March to a former Army sergeant convicted of unlawful killings of civilians, the many appointments to key civilian roles of senior military officials who were allegedly involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity and moves within the police and judiciary to obstruct the investigation of such crimes. She also noted the surveillance and intimidation of victims, their families, human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers and stated that it should cease immediately.

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