The South Asia Collective Online Bulletin #3 Intro Page Intro Page

In this section, our researchers in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka review major news developments between 1st July and 30th September, 2021, that have impacted or have the potential to impact the lives of South Asia's minorities.

The COVID-19 situation: Since July 2021, Sri Lanka witnessed a crippling spike in COVID-19 cases, peaking at around 4,500 cases and 200 deaths a day at the end of August. At the end of September, the infection caseload seemed to come relatively under control in each country, including in Sri Lanka. At the time of writing, even as health authorities scrambled to prepare for fresh and potentially more devastating waves of the pandemic, the vast majority of the population in each country – with the exception of Sri Lanka – remained yet to be fully vaccinated.

COVID-19 caseload and death tally in South Asia

Country Total confirmed COVID-19 cases* Total officially attributed COVID-19 deaths* % of population that is fully vaccinated against COVID-19^
Afghanistan 155,191 7,206 1.1
Bangladesh 1,555,911 27,510 10.2
India 33,765,488 448,372 17.2
Nepal 795,061 11,135 21.6
Pakistan 1,245,127 27,729 13.2
Sri Lanka 519,377 12,964 53.5

*Source: Worldometer

^Source: Our World in Data

All figures as of 31st September, 2021

New deaths attributed to COVID-19 in South Asia

Seven-day rolling average of new deaths (per 100k)

Source: Financial Times analysis of data from Johns Hopkins CSSE

Amid the pandemic, South Asia’s minorities continued to face targeting. In Afghanistan, the Taliban Islamic fundamentalist group toppled the democratic government and re-established the country as an Islamic emirate, upending the lives of women, ethnic and religious minorities. In Bangladesh, Hindus faced the worst wave of communal violence in years. In India, Christians and Dalits and particularly Muslims, faced both state targeting and vigilante violence, including a burgeoning trend of livelihoods coming under attack. In Nepal, Dalits continue to face violence and social discrimination. In Pakistan, Christians, Hindus, Shias and the Ahmadiyya faced violent attacks. And in Sri Lanka, amid a general erosion of freedoms against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tamils and Muslims continued to face state targeting.

Click the links below for more detailed reporting of major minority-related developments in each country.

The period under review has been cataclysmic for Afghans, overall, and particularly for women and ethno-religious minorities. After a brutal three-and-a-half month-long offensive that coincided with the withdrawal of American troops from the country, the Islamic fundamentalist group, Taliban, finally re-established control over Afghanistan, immediately rechristening it as an Islamic Emirate. The campaign came to a crescendo on 15th August when – after capturing almost all major cities and provincial capitals in a final, ten day-long push – the national capital Kabul fell under Taliban control again, 20 years after it had been driven out.

While the return of the Taliban has upended the lives of the entire population of Afghanistan, it has had grave implications for Afghanistan’s ethnic, religious and gender minorities, particularly its 20 million women, who now face near-total erasure from public life and spaces. Even as the country at large struggles through a humanitarian crisis that is still unfolding and continues to be marked by crippling food and medicine shortages amid a stalled economy, the Taliban has wasted no time in rolling back the hard-won gains of the past two decades, including the most basic rights and freedom. And despite its promises to govern inclusively and its ostensible attempts to present itself as a moderate force, the Taliban has gone about ruthlessly crushing dissent and carrying out summary executions and other atrocities that UN experts say may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Women:

As during its previous reign, the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islamic law has relegated Afghanistan’s women back to being second-class citizens with limited rights.

  • A Human Rights Watch report detailed the Taliban's widespread and systematic abuses against women and girls in the city of Herat, which fell under Taliban control on 12th August, 2021. The report detailed how women’s life as they knew it 'vanished overnight', with the Taliban going door-to-door in search of high-profile women, causing many to flee the country; denying women the basic freedoms of movement and peaceful assembly outside their homes unless accompanied by a male relative; imposing strict dress codes; severely curtailing their access to employment and education; and inflicting severe mental distress.

    After negotiations between Herat’s women's representatives and the Taliban on the question of rights ended fruitlessly, a public protest organised by women, on 7th September, ended with Taliban fighters firing indiscriminately and killing two men, before banning protests nationwide unless they obtain prior government permission.

    The general trend of women being systematically targeted and side-lined from public life – and of women’s dissent being ruthlessly crushed – held true in other parts of the country as well.

  • Signalling its intention to continue its systematic repression of women for the foreseeable future, the Ministry of Women's Affairs was subsumed under the much-feared and re-established Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue. Women were also denied any positions in the interim cabinet, which is also dominated by ethnic Pashtuns.
  • Nationwide, where the female literacy rate had nearly doubled over the previous decade, girls have now been banned from secondary education, while high schools for boys reopened in late September 2021. Women currently studying at the university level have been allowed to complete their studies, but in a strictly gender-segregated setting. There have also been reports of women being banned from studying certain subjects, such as law.
  • Most women have also been effectively banned from employment, now restricted only to the health and education sectors, apparently for security reasons, an excuse the Taliban had used during their previous reign to confine women to their homes. The Taliban-appointed mayor of Kabul announced that the only jobs women are now eligible to do for the government are those that are not ‘a man’s job’ – such as cleaning public female bathrooms.

    Across the country, businesses owned and staffed by women have remained closed.

  • Several reports revealed that women's access to healthcare too has been gravely impacted, with life-saving supplies for reproductive health running out. The UN estimated that the women’s health crisis, if left unaddressed, could result in 51,000 additional maternal deaths, in a country that already has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world.
  • Women’s sports came to a complete standstill, with the national teams in several sports being wound up, and many professional sportswomen fleeing the country. Other prominent female figures in arts, culture and entertainment too had to flee the country, fearing reprisal. Kabul's famed Afghan National Institute of Music, home to the internationally-acclaimed all-female orchestra group Zohra, is reported to have closed down.
  • Despite an announcement of 'general amnesty' for all former government employees, there were multiple reports of women judges, lawyers and others who had served the previous government facing threats and violence. In Ghor province, a pregnant, Hazara policewoman was shot dead in front of her family. There were also some reports of women being forcibly married to Taliban fighters.
  • Despite the omnipresent possibility of violent reprisal, women in many parts of the country continued to resist and protest. Some women's rights protests in places such as Kabul – with a relatively stronger presence of international media – initially passed off peacefully, albeit watched and filmed closely by Taliban fighters, while others were violently dispersed, with women protesters whipped and beaten. The UN condemned the Taliban’s ‘increasingly violent response’ to protests and dissent.

Ethnic minorities:

Taliban have upended the ethnic balance sought to be maintained by previous governments. Members of marginalised ethnic groups are increasingly being sidelined from governance and in public participation. A few male members from Afghanistan’s Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara ethnic minority communities have been added by Taliban to its interim cabinet, albeit to lower positions in ministries with relatively limited importance. All key portfolios in the cabinet are occupied by Pashtuns. Alongside, the country’s ethnic minorities, who were heavily persecuted and subject to several mass killings during the Taliban’s previous reign – in addition to countless bombings and targeted killings over the past two decades – have come under renewed attack.

  • Shia Muslims faced two deadly bomb attacks, both claimed by the Islamic State (Khorasan) (IS-K) and targeted at crowded mosques during Friday noon prayers. The first attack, in Kunduz on 9th October, killed at least 50 people, while the second attack, in Kandahar city on 16th October, is reported to have killed more than 40 people. The bombings were the latest in a series of IS-claimed attacks that have targeted Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, as well as religious institutions and minority Shias since the exit of US and NATO troops in August.
  • An Amnesty International investigation found that at least nine Shia Hazara men were tortured and brutally murdered by the Taliban in Ghazni province, in a two-day killing spree shortly after it took control of the province in July 2021. Amnesty noted that these killings likely represent only a tiny fraction of the total death toll inflicted by the Taliban, amid an expansive communications blackout.

    Yet another massacre of Hazaras was uncovered by Amnesty in Daykundi province in late-August, where Taliban fighters were reported to have executed 11 former Afghan National Army soldiers. Two civilians including a 17-year-old girl were also reported to have been killed, apparently in the crossfire when Taliban forces targeted soldiers attempting to flee the location.

    Separately, more than 700 Hazara farmer families in central Afghanistan were reported to have been driven out of their homes by the Taliban in Uruzgan province, apparently to favour Pashtun Taliban members who wanted to seize the land and crops. Similar mass evictions of Shia-Hazaras were also reported from Mazar-i-Sharif in Baikh province, and around 3,000 non-Hazara Shias were reported to have been driven out of their homes in Kandahar city.

  • In the Tajik-majority Panjshir valley, the BBC confirmed that Taliban forces tortured and killed at least 20 civilians, shortly after it assumed control of the province. Panjshir had persisted as a resistance stronghold even after the fall of Kabul, till the Taliban declared victory in early-September.

Religious minorities:

  • Following assurances from senior Taliban leaders, dozens of Hindus and Sikhs who had sought shelter at a gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) in Kabul were reported to have returned to their hometowns and reopened their businesses. Many others – including some parliamentarians – fled to India, which announced that it would prioritise Hindus and Sikhs in its evacuation effort out of the country.

    Afghanistan is now estimated to have only around 250 Sikhs and Hindus remaining.

  • Afghanistan's last remaining Jew, who had endured decades of war, was reported to have left the country.

General attacks on freedoms:

  • Despite its proclaimed amnesty for all Afghans who had served the previous government and its NATO-supported armed forces, there were numerous reports of Taliban forces going door-to-door in search of ‘collaborators’. The UN — and the interim defence minister of the Taliban regime — acknowledged that there had been several ‘revenge killings’ by Taliban fighters.

    Some documented instances of such atrocities committed by the Taliban during the period under review, in addition to incidents already mentioned above, include:

    • In July: the massacre of around 100 civilians, the execution of an Indian photojournalist, and the murder of a popular comedian, all in Kandahar; and the torture and execution four captured soldiers and a hospital worker in Shakardara.
    • In August: the execution of a folk singer in Baghlan, the execution of dozens of imprisoned ISIS-K fighters in Kabul and of an influential Salafi cleric many of whose students belong to ISIS-K, the assassinations of the head of the governmental media & information centre in Kabul, the executions of the police chiefs of Badghis and Farha provinces, and the massacre of at least 30 captured soldiers in Zaranj.

  • The chief enforcer of the Taliban's interpretation of Islamic law during its previous reign announced that brutal legal punishments would return to Afghanistan, remarking that measures such as amputation of arms are 'very necessary for security'. He added that there would be ‘no more torture’.

    A day after the announcement, several men in Herat who the Taliban alleged were criminals were shot dead and their bodies hung in public squares across the city, as a warning to other potential criminals. Similar reports were heard from across the country.

  • Afghanistan’s vibrant local media – a major gain of the past two decades – came under attack, despite an assurance from the Taliban that a free press would be allowed to function as long as it didn't breach 'Islamic values'. While self-censorship has been exercised by the media since the Taliban takeover, several journalists and other members of the media, including those who covered protests against Taliban rule, were reported to have faced detention, violent attacks and custodial torture on numerous occasions. Influential social media users too silenced themselves en masse, deleting old posts or scrubbing their online profiles entirely. Hundreds of national and international civil society organisations too have shut down.
  • Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission said that it is no longer able to fulfil its duties, with its buildings and devices all seized by Taliban forces.

During the period under review, Bangladesh’s Hindu community faced the worst bout of communal violence in years after a Facebook post triggered violence across the country. The attacks were preceded by other, comparatively smaller instances of Hindu faith symbols being targeted ahead of the Hindu Durga Puja festival season.

Separately and also during the period under review, some Bangladeshi Hindu organisations resisted efforts by civil society to reform the Hindu inheritance law and make it more equitable for women.

Hindus:

Violent targeting:

  • In October 2021, Bangladesh witnessed its worst bout of communal violence in years, with Hindu temples, dwellings and gatherings across the country facing a series of coordinated and violent mob attacks. The Guardian reported that the attacks – which were reported from at least 22 of the country’s 64 districts – resulted in at least 7 confirmed deaths and hundreds of injuries, as of 16 October. The violence, which coincided with the Hindu Durga Puja festival, was marked by least 17 temples being targeted. Dozens of Hindu homes were reported to have been burned down in Rangpur.

    Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina too condemned the attacks, reassured the country’s Hindus and vowed to ‘hunt down and punish’ those responsible, while also hinting that the attacks may have been influenced by developments in neighbouring India.

    Attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh are often precipitated by attacks on Muslims in India, and vice-versa. In March 2021, a visit to the country by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had triggered protests and another round of anti-Hindu violence, leaving at least a dozen people dead.

    The immediate spark for the latest spate of attacks was reportedly a provocative social media post that purported to show Islam’s holy Quran being disrespected at a Hindu temple in Bangladesh’s Cumilla city. In 2016, hundreds of Hindu homes across Bangladesh were burned down over similar outrage over a fake Facebook post.

  • Even before the attacks in October, there were two major instances of Hindu religious places in Bangladesh coming under attack:

    On 7th August, four Hindu temples, at least Hindu religious idols, six shops, and two homes belonging to local Hindus in Khulna district (Shiali village, Rupsha sub-district) came under attack by vandals. The attacks reportedly took place following a dispute between local Hindus and Muslims the previous day. Police have arrested 10 people in a case filed in connection with the attacks.

    Oh 21st September, unidentified miscreants vandalised Hindu idols that were being constructed ahead of the upcoming Durga Puja Hindu festival, in Kushtia town. Local artisans had left the idols to dry the previous night after coating them with clay. Locals say the attack took place at a temporary temple porch that is built in the area every year ahead of Durga Puja.

Legal and policy developments:

  • The Hindu Paribarik Ain Poribartan Protirodh Committee (HPAPPC), a platform of 20 Hindu community groups, protested rights activists’ demands to reform the existing Hindu family law and to ensure equal property rights for women. HPAPPC insisted that the issue be resolved through religious scriptures, and urged the government not to adopt the bill in Parliament. Angela Gomez and Shaheen Anam, two eminent human rights activists, were sued for their alleged role in spearheading the reform, even though the draft law formation committee denied that the activists were involved.

    Bangladesh’s Prime Minister had called for the formulation of a Hindu inheritance law in 2016, following which a citizens’ group – the Hindu Ain Pronoyon e Nagorik Udyog Coalition – had formulated a draft law, which aimed to ensure equal right of Hindu citizens to the property of their parents.

During the period under review, against a backdrop of increasingly toxic anti-minority hate and incitement, India’s Muslims, Christians and other caste and tribal minorities faced a spate of hate crimes and other forms of violent targeting by non-state actors linked to the ruling Hindu nationalist regime led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). At the same time, the BJP-led national government and BJP-led governments in several states stepped up their targeting of minorities, using extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions and torture, in addition to discriminatory laws, procedures, policies and other state actions.

Religious Minorities:

Muslims:

State Violence:

Killings:

  • Police forces in BJP-ruled Assam shot dead three Muslims including a 12-year-old boy during an eviction drive in Darrang district. At least 20 people were reported injured. Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma blamed two Islamic organisations of orchestrating the violence, and called on the federal government to ban them. (also see sub-section on Discriminatory Laws, Procedures, Policies and Actions)

    In May 2021, Sarma’s government had begun a campaign of extra-judicial killings, ostensibly aimed at curbing crime. As of 5th September, at least 23 alleged criminals had been shot dead in the state, in addition to 38 who were injured. A partial list of victims, from July, revealed that the targets of the campaign have disproportionately been Muslims.

    The extra-judicial killing campaign in Assam is similar to an ongoing campaign in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh (UP), which has witnessed 150 such killings since March 2017. Of these, a disproportionate number (37%, compared to their population share of 19%) have been of Muslims.

  • A family from Anantnag in Muslim-majority Kashmir alleged that their son was killed by Indian government forces in a staged gunfight. Police claim that the victim was an armed militant. Since July 2020, there have been at least four separate instances of Kashmiri families alleging such extra-judicial killings.

    While India has claimed a reduction in militancy in Kashmir, a police statement on 24th August revealed that government forces had killed 102 alleged militants in the region so far this year. Since then, SAC researchers have tracked eight more such killings of alleged militants. Since July 2021, at least two civilians – in Tral and Kulgam – and eight armed forces personnel have been killed by alleged militants. A local BJP leader and his wife were also killed. In early October, after the period under review, Kashmir witnessed a fresh surge of civilian killings by militants, aimed at Hindus and Sikhs.

Custodial torture and death:

  • In Godhra in BJP-ruled Gujarat, a Muslim man who had been arrested for allegedly transporting beef died while in police custody. The victim’s family has alleged custodial torture, while police claim his death was a suicide.
  • UN experts expressed concern over the arbitrary detention, torture and death in custody of senior Kashmiri separatist leader Ashraf Sehrai. 77-year-old Sehrai was detained in July 2020, and had died in a hospital in May 2021, while still under ‘preventive’ detention.
  • In Jharkhand’s Jamshedpur district, two Muslim men alleged that they were tortured and forced to have sex with each other inside a police station.

    Allegations of custodial torture were also made by two Muslim men arrested in connection with the February 2020 anti-Muslim violence in North-East Delhi. The men, who secured bail in June 2021 after 15 months in custody, are accused of murdering a fellow Muslim. The victims of the February 2020 violence, which many have described as a pogrom perpetrated by Hindu extremists with the help of police, were overwhelmingly and disproportionately Muslims. Delhi Police’s biased post-violence investigation, which has targeted Muslims, has been slammed by international observers and by several courts.

    In a separate case, also in North-East Delhi, a disabled Muslim woman who was questioned in connection with a petty scuffle alleged that she was assaulted by male police officers.

  • Recently released government data revealed that India witnessed 76 custodial deaths in 2020. While a further demographic breakdown is not available, the victims of custodial torture and death in India are usually overwhelmingly members of marginalised communities – including religious, caste and tribal minorities.

    India remains one of only a handful of countries yet to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture.

Discriminatory laws, procedures, policies and state actions:

  • In Kashmir, the family of veteran separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who died of natural causes while under house arrest, alleged that his body was snatched by government forces and forcibly buried. Geelani’s family members were later booked under anti-terror charges, in a move that was condemned by several international human rights bodies. Geelani’s death was also marked by the imposition of a near-total communications blackout, heavy deployment of government forces, and violent protests. Congregational Friday prayers were banned at mosques in Srinagar for four straight weeks.

    Less than two weeks before Geelani’s death, scores of Shia Muslims participating in annual Muharram processions in Srinagar were detained after being assaulted by government forces with batons, tear gas shells and birdshot ‘pellet’ guns. At least one mourner was reported to have been partially blinded, and many were booked under anti-terror charges. Journalists documenting the procession were also reported to have been assaulted.

    The violence in Srinagar was in stark contrast to the state security provided to Kashmiri Hindus who participated in processions during a Hindu festival.

    Also in Kashmir, a new order by the unelected administration stipulated that government employees can now be terminated if their family members are found to have links to militants. At least 17 Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) government employees have been sacked so far this year for alleged links to militants.

  • The Assam government continued to conduct a series of major eviction drives in Darrang district’s Dhalpur village, populated mostly by Bengali-origin Muslims. Two eviction drives – one in June, and the second on 20th September – resulted in around 850 Muslim families being rendered homeless. A third eviction drive resulted in the killing of three Muslims (see section on Killings). The Assam government ostensibly wants to reclaim the land for a farming project.

    ‘Indigenous’ ethnonationalists in Assam have, for decades, sought to drive Bengali-speakers of all faiths out of the state. The BJP has, in recent years, sought to communalise this conflict, and has solely targeted Bengali-speaking Muslims, by using the contentious National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise, which has left 1.9 million Assam residents on the brink of statelessness, and the ‘fundamentally discriminatory’ Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), which could ensure that non-Muslims would be protected from the effects of exclusion from the NRC. The ongoing eviction drive is seen as part of this broader effort to target Bengali-origin Muslims.

    During the period under review, Assam also enacted a more stringent version of its cattle protection law, which experts warn could further embolden violent attacks against Muslims by Hindu vigilantes, as has been the norm in BJP-ruled states with similar laws.

  • The government of Bihar, where the BJP is a partner in the ruling coalition, called on the state’s residents to report illegal ‘Bangladeshi’ immigrants for subsequent deportation. Experts have warned that the move is likely to result in witch-hunts against local Muslims, similar to those seen in Assam.
  • Escalating its targeting of Muslims, police forces in Uttar Pradesh – led by Chief Minister and hardline Hindu monk ‘Yogi’ Adityanath – arrested several Muslims on charges that locals say are frivolous and aimed with a view of religious polarisation ahead of upcoming state elections. A prominent Islamic scholar was arrested for allegedly running a religious conversion syndicate, along with 10 others. In another case, five Muslim men from mostly destitute families were arrested on terror charges. Local CSOs have found glaring loopholes in the police’s version.

    Adityanath also announced his intention to impose a total ban on the sale of meat and liquor in Mathura, city considered holy by many Hindus, but is also home to 60,000 (17%) Muslims, who dominate the meat trade. Adityanath’s announcement has already empowered vigilante attacks against Muslims in Mathura. (see section on Hate, Incitement and Violence by Non-State Actors)

    Also in UP, a local court acquitted 20 Hindus accused of violence during the anti-Muslim riots in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, which had left 62 dead – including 42 Muslims – and more than 50,000 Muslims displaced. Since the Adityanath-led government assumed power in the state in 2017, dozens of Hindus accused of violence during the riots, including senior BJP leaders, have either been discharged or acquitted.

    Separately, UP’s state High Court suggested declaring the cow India’s national animal, and making cow protection – which has resulted in the deaths of scores of Muslims and ‘lower-caste’ Dalits across the country over the past decade – a fundamental right.

  • A senior Muslim judge of the Tripura High Court was reportedly denied elevation to India’s Supreme Court after objections from the BJP-led central government. The judge, who is the second senior-most High Court judge across India, had in the past delivered several judgments unfriendly to the ruling dispensation, including the detention of current Home Minister on murder charges in 2010.

Hate, incitement, violence and other forms of targeting:

India also witnessed several widely reported instances of hate speech and open incitement to violence against Muslims, including by actors closely linked to the BJP.

  • In national capital Delhi, a rally organised by a BJP leader was marked by the chanting of several violent anti-Muslim slogans, and the distribution of flyers calling for the annihilation of Islam. Almost all the men arrested in connection with the event – all of whom have now secured bail – are followers of extremist Hindu priest Yati Narsinghanand, who had openly called for the genocide of Muslims in the lead-up to the February 2020 anti-Muslim violence in Delhi. During the period under review, Narsinghanand continued to call on Hindus to arm themselves and fight against Islam.

  • In Chhattisgarh’s Kabirdham district, in early October, communal tensions arose after a right-wing Hindu rally turned violent. Amid the tensions, a BJP leader – also the son of a former chief minister – was seen leading a hate rally and calling for the slaughter of Muslims.
  • Kerala state witnessed heightened communal tensions after a Catholic bishop remarked that non-Muslims in the state were targets of Muslim-led ‘love jihad’ and ‘narcotics jihad’ campaigns. After the comments led to vilification campaigns against several Muslim-owned businesses, Kerala’s chief minister released government data to debunk both claims.
  • In Uttar Pradesh, in the lead-up to state elections next year, CM Adityanath accused opposition parties of pandering to Muslims and unfairly favouring them in the distribution of free rations.

    Against this backdrop of increased hate, India’s Muslims continued to face violent attacks from non-state actors ideologically aligned to the Hindu nationalist ruling regime:

    (click here for a full list of incidents shown in the map)
  • Mob lynching deaths of Muslims by Hindus were reported from Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district (a 17-year old boy), Bihar’s Madhepura (a 65-year-old man) and Nawada (a 25-year-old man) districts, and Manipur’s Thoubal district (a man of unknown age). All three states are governed by the BJP or its allies.

    In Karnataka’s Belagavi district, a 24-year-old Muslim man was found beheaded, allegedly by members of a right-wing Hindu group at the behest of the victim’s Hindu girlfriend’s family. Other murders of Muslims – not amounting to lynching – were also reported from UP’s Meerut (two children aged 13 and 14) and Jaunpur (a 19-year-old political worker) districts. In Rajasthan’s Alwar district, a 16-year-old Muslim boy was killed after being run over by a car driven by cow vigilantes who were apparently chasing cow smugglers.

  • India also witnessed several instances of Muslim livelihoods being targeted by Hindu extremists using intimidation and, on many occasions, physical violence. The perpetrators recorded and published videos of several such attacks.

    In Indore in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh (MP), a Muslim bangle seller was assaulted for – according to a justification provided by the state’s Home Minister – using a Hindu name and selling his goods in a Hindu locality. The victim was later arrested on charges of molestation. Activists had organised protests in his favour were also reported to have been either arrested or to be facing legal exile. In MP’s Dewas district, a Muslim street vendor was assaulted for selling eatables in a Hindu-dominated area. In MP’s Ujjain district, a Muslim scrap-dealer was pictured being forced to chant Hindu religious slogans before being made to leave the village. In Khargone, also in MP, after an alleged instance of beef recovery, extremist Hindu outfits chanted genocidal slogans and attacked many Muslim-owned shops, injuring many.

    Several similar incidents were also reported from BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh (UP). Muslim shopkeepers in Muzaffarnagar were pictured being harassed ahead of a Hindu festival in August. Later, Al Jazeera reported that Hindu extremists have been issuing similar threats across the state ahead of the upcoming Hindu festive season in October and November. In two separate incidents from Mathura, Muslim owners of food stalls were pictured being harassed. In Lucknow, a Muslim rickshaw driver was harassed and forced to chant Hindu religious slogans.

  • There were also several other instances of physical violence against Muslims, not linked to livelihoods. UP witnessed three such incidents: in Mathura, two men were first assaulted by cow vigilantes and then arrested and sent to judicial custody. In Noida, a 62-year-old man was stripped and assaulted by men chanting anti-Muslim slogans. In Kanpur, a Muslim man was pictured being assaulted and forced to chant Hindu religious slogans in front of his daughter.

    Instances of physical assault were also reported from Samba (J&K), Damtal (HP), Ajmer (Rajasthan), and Mysore (Karnataka).

Other forms of targeting by non-state actors:

  • In Panipat (Haryana), a Muslim cleric was harassed and forced to chant Hindu religious slogans, and expelled from his village when he refused.
  • Moral policing and targeting of inter-faith couples by Hindu extremists was reported from Dakshin Kannada (Karnataka) and Meerut (UP). In Dewas (MP), a Hindu boy who eloped with a girl was ‘mistakenly’ assaulted by locals who thought he was Muslim.
  • In Tripura’s Sepahijala district, a local leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the umbrella of Hindu nationalist organisations of which the BJP is the political wing – was arrested in connection with the abduction and forced conversion and marriage of a 16-year-old Muslim girl. The president of the state unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) – another sister organisation of the BJP within the RSS family – was also detained in connection with the case.
  • In Delhi, the official residence of a prominent Muslim parliamentarian was vandalised, allegedly by members of a radical Hindu outfit.

Christians:

India’s Christians too faced targeting from state and non-state actors.

  • United Christian Forum (UCF), a network of advocacy groups that run a hate crime help line number, documented 152 episodes of anti-Christian targeting during the period under review. According to UCF, only 10 of these incidents ended in a formal case being registered by the police. A total of 716 women, 307 ‘lower caste’ Dalits, and 357 members of indigenous Adivasi tribes were targeted in these incidents. Uttar Pradesh (47) and Chhattisgarh (25) states accounted for the highest number of incidents, while Bihar and Karnataka both witnessed 10 incidents each.

    Targeting of Christians in India

    (1st July to 30th September, 2021)

    Type of violation Number of incidents
    Physical assault 22
    Sexual assault 0
    Social ostracism 8
    Arrests and detention 91
    Restrictions on religious assembly 42
    Intimidation, threats and harassment 152
    Source: United Christian Forum

    Only a handful of anti-Christian hate crimes get reported in the English-language news media, such as recent incidents in Bihar’s Gaya district – where a 14-year-old Dalit Christian was killed after he had acid thrown at him by, according to his family, Hindu extremists – and in Chhatisgarh’s Raipur district, where a priest was assaulted inside a police station by Hindu extremists, including at least two members of the BJP’s youth wing.

  • A bishop in Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua district alleged that members of the VHP threatened to demolish churches in the district. Christian leaders also alleged that district authorities, instead of acting against those who made the violent threats, had been investigating the churches for running a ‘conversion racket’.

Caste and tribal minorities:

  • India’s historically oppressed ‘lower’ caste Dalits continued to face violence and other forms of social exclusion, with the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ) documenting 54 instances of anti-Dalit atrocities during the period under review. These included 8 murders and 12 instances of rape. This is believed to be an undercount – the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) estimates that 13 Dalits are murdered every week, and 3 Dalit women are raped every day. Only a few get registered as formal police cases or receive media attention.
  • During the period under review, an instance of custodial torture was reported from Karnataka’s Chikkamagaluru district, where a Dalit man alleged that he was forced to drink another inmate’s urine by a police sub-inspector while in custody.
  • In Uttar Pradesh’s Jaunpur district, a Dalit journalist alleged that he was physically assaulted in June by a local BJP leader, allegedly at the behest of an elected legislator, also of the BJP.
  • Recently-released government data for 2020 showed that crimes against Scheduled Castes (‘lower-caste’ Dalits) and Scheduled Tribes (members of indigenous tribes) rose by 9.4% (to 50,291) and 9.3% (to 8,272) compared to the previous year. BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh (12,714 or 25.2%) recorded the highest number of anti-Dalit crimes, while BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh (2,401 or 29%) accounted for the highest number of anti-ST crimes.

    The data also revealed that at the end of 2020, nearly 20,000 of these cases were yet to reach court.

General attacks on freedoms:

The Indian government also continued its efforts to silence journalists, HRDs and other government critics, using ‘politically motivated allegations’ of financial irregularities and other charges.

  • Among those who had their residences and offices raided by financial authorities during the period under review were a think-tank run by an outspoken critic of the government, two online news portals, a print newspaper, and an actor-activist. Rana Ayyub, a journalist known to be critical of the government, also had a case registered against her for alleged financial irregularities.
  • In Kashmir, during the period under review, SAC researchers tracked raids at over 112 locations by Indian intelligence and investigative agencies. Among those targeted were journalists, civilians accused of being ‘overground workers’ for proscribed armed militant outfits, and former government officials. Residences and offices linked to the Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamic socio-religious-political organisation, and Darul Uloom, an Islamic seminary, were also raided.
  • The government also tightened the noose around intellectuals and activists incarcerated in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon case. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) submitted draft charges claiming that the accused wanted to wage war against the nation and establish their own government. Separately, a special NIA court rejected medical bail applications filed on behalf of four of the accused. All four are senior citizens suffering from various serious ailments.
  • Further funding restrictions were imposed on ten foreign NGOs dealing with environmental, climate change and child labour issues. Stringent restrictions imposed last year on foreign funding for NGOs have been described as a ‘death blow’ for NGOs operating in India.

With the global pandemic of COVID-19 taking a toll on the lives of millions around the world, Nepal has been hugely impacted, with over ten thousand deaths in total. By end of September 2021, Only a fraction of the total population in the entire country had been vaccinated. The dearth of jabs and problems faced while accessing them has further inflicted collective trauma in the lives of people.

In this time of crisis, all the three key organs of governance are in disarray, while the dignity, freedom and lives of minorities in the country remain at stake. A number of incidents, including violent ones, against them have been perpetrated with no legal remedy in most of the cases.

Dalits:

  • In June 2021, a Dalit journalist was barred from renting a flat in the capital, Kathmandu, by an ‘upper-caste’ owner, allegedly objecting to the journalist’s caste. The then Minister of Education, who belonged to the same ethnicity, engineered the release of the house owner and had her dropped home in his official vehicle. For filing a case of caste discrimination in protest, the journalist was condemned on social media.
  • In July 2021, an inter-caste couple from Bhajani Municipality in Sudurpaschim Province returned home three weeks after getting married. On their return, the bride’s family ambushed the couple and made off with the woman. The couple had earlier posted a video on social media, stating how they had to flee to a forest to hide from their families because of the difference in their castes. In the video, the bride mentions how the families have reported them to the police calling it a non-consensual marriage. The groom, who is a Dalit, revealed his personal chat with his brother where the couple was threatened with the same intensity of barbarism that took place in Rukum in 2020, which saw the murder of a Dalit man and four of his friends for attempting to marry a ‘high-caste’ woman.
  • An elderly Dalit couple was brutally beaten by their neighbours in July in Palpa of Lumbini Province by another couple just because they were resting near their house on their way back from the market. Despite there being a specific law against caste-based discrimination and untouchability, the victims were not able to register their case.
  • Also in July, an ‘upper-caste’ couple brutally beat a Dalit women apart while throwing casteist slurs and abuses on her. The police refused to register a complaint made by the victim who believed the violence stemmed from the fact that she was one of the active voices against caste-based discrimination in her area and believes that the neighbours could not stand a Dalit woman speaking up for the fundamental rights of her community. The police finally agreed to register the case after the incident started making headlines in different news portals.
  • Dalits in Kanchanpur Municipality of Province 2 were denied COVID-19 vaccinations by health officials. The next day, health officials were prepared to send people from Dalit community back with the help of the local police. A Dalit community leader reported that everyone but them were given the vaccines. One comment in the newspaper’s social handle noted that it was not just the case in Saptari, but everywhere.
  • A communist party candidate for mayor in Dhanushadham Municipality in Province 2 and his relatives brutally beat a Dalit family in August 2021. Four people were injured.

LGBTIQA+:

  • In September, Body and Data, an organization that advocates for digital rights among women, queer people and minority groups for a safe and just digital space for them has published a Nepal survey report on different identities experiencing the internet, both in Nepali and English. They explored the story of how the internet features into the lives of individuals from different backgrounds, and the opportunities that exist to support issues of access and usage, autonomy and expression, and experience of online violence from a feminist perspective. They went on to conclude how offline spaces for sexual expression and pleasure are not accessible to everyone, especially gender and sexual minorities.

Indigenous groups:

  • The Makwanpur District Police arrested 10 people from the Tamang community on the charge of slaughtering a cow in September. While the police claim to have arrested them while dividing portions of meat among the people present there, the United Tamang National Liberation Front and Nepal Tamang Ghedung in their statements have denied the allegations. While condemning the discriminatory act of the police, the two fronts have claimed that the ten people present there were trying to bury a dead cow. Journalist and poet Raju Syangtan called out the silence of the social movement Citizens Movement that had been supported by the Tamang community with different forms of artistic performances.

Citizenship ordinance:

  • In August 2021, different groups across the country organised a peaceful protest in Maitighar Mandala, Kathmandu demanding the passage of the Citizenship Bill, in addition to asking for compensation for all the lost opportunities in the absence of a citizenship certificate. On their way from Maitighar to Baneshwor, they also demanded the implementation of different articles under Part 2 of Nepal’s Constitution of 2015 that assures their eligibility for citizenship papers. There was no state response to the protest.

During the period under review, as Pakistan grappled with its fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the targeting of its religious minorities continued. In addition to numerous documented cases of religious persecution, there were also important policy developments.

Hindus::

  • On 4th August, after local courts granted bail to a nine-year-old Hindu boy who had been charged in a blasphemy case, hundreds of Muslims vandalised a Hindu temple in Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab. Although initial reports had suggested that the tensions over the boy had been resolved amicably, a subsequent social media hate campaign against the Hindu community eventually led to the attack, during which a violent mob stormed the temple and smashed idols of Hindu deities housed within it.

    After Pakistan’s Supreme Court reprimanded local police for its inaction, 52 of the miscreants involved in the attack, including the main accused, were arrested. By 10th August, the temple had been completely restored and handed back to members of the Hindu community. The expenses incurred for the temple renovation are to be recovered from the rioters.

    Another instance of a temple being vandalised and idols of Hindu deities being destroyed was reported from Sanghar district in Sindh on 30th August, ahead of a Hindu festival.

  • Oh 11th September, a Hindu family in Rahim Yar Khar was reported to have been tortured by local Muslims for drinking water from a mosque. The victims alleged that they were assaulted for ‘contaminating the water’, subject to communal abuse, robbed of an amount of Rs. 75,000 (~$440), and threatened with further violence. Local police was reported to have been initially reluctant to file a formal case as the alleged attackers were reportedly related to a ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) parliamentarian, but gave in after a sit-in by the local Hindu community.

Christians:

  • In September 2021, a Pentecostal Church in Lahore was attacked by a group of Muslims during Sunday service, leaving many injured, including a pregnant woman and the pastor of the church.

    Witnesses alleged that in the days leading up to the attack, women churchgoers and their families had been subjected to harassment and abuse.

    The secretary-general of Pakistan’s Minority Rights Commission condemned the incident and noted that despite ‘great efforts’ by the government, incidents and abuses against minorities had increased by 40%.

    In another incident reported during the period under review, a Christian pastor was attacked by Muslim men in Hyderabad. The police were reportedly initially hesitant to register a case. The attackers are also accused of harassing the pastor’s wife. After the Christian community protested the incident, a police spokesperson claimed that two suspects – but not the main accused – had been arrested.

  • In August 2021, a Christian couple in Haripur alleged that their 14-and-a-half year-old daughter had been abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and married to a man connected to a local leader of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The parents claimed that they were facing threats and further alleged that police were reluctant to file a formal case about the matter.

    While local police claim that the schoolgirl had gotten married at a court and converted to Islam on her own free will, a court had the accused and his father presented before it and sent the girl to a shelter home. The girl told the court that she had converted on her own and wished to continue living with her husband, while her parents insist that she was underage and hence cannot get married under the Child Marriage Restraint Act. The divisional president of PTI’s minority wing also agreed that the girl was underage, and that the Christian community would pursue the case at all possible legal fora.

    Analysts have repeatedly noted that Pakistan’s legal system is discriminatory against religious minorities and point to a loophole that girls cannot converted back, as it is prohibited by Islam.

Ahmadiyyas:

  • On 3rd September, a 55-year-old Ahmadiyya man was shot dead by unknown gunmen in Nankana Sahib district in Punjab. The man, a British-Pakistani dual national, was reportedly on his first trip home since migrating from Pakistan.
  • Waseem Ahmed, the newly-appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Health in Chakwal, was removed from his post barely a week after assuming charge. Shortly after his appointment, Ahmed was the victim of a targeted hate campaign led by religious organisations – who were aided by local news media outlets – who demanded his removal.

Shias:

  • On 19th August, a Shia Muslim Ashura procession in Bahawalnagar was targeted in a deadly bomb attack, killing at least 3 people and leaving around 50 injured. The attacked, who had lobbed a grenade, was immediately arrest.

    Separately, several reports alleged that police cases were registered against the organisers of similar Shia processions in Punjab and Sindh.

Policy developments::

  • The recently-released findings of Pakistan’s census – completed in 2017 – raised controversy, with representatives of several minority communities alleging that they were significantly undercounted. The findings suggest that the share of religious minorities in the total population shrank minimally, with Muslims now accounting for 96.47% of the population (from 96.27% in 1998), while Hindus account for 1.73%, Christians for 1.27%, Ahmadiyya for 0.09%, Scheduled Caste for 0.41%, and others for 0.02% of the total population.

    Christian CSOs alleged, citing church records, that Christians may have been undercounted by at least half a million. Similar undercounting was also noted in the Hindu community, while Sikhs expressed disappointment that they were not given a separate religious column. Ahmadiyya community leaders claimed that they were undercounted as most Ahmadiyya hide their religious identity.

  • Clerics belonging to all four mainstream Islamic schools of thought – Shia, Barelvi, Deobandi and Ahle Hadith – along with officials of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) jointly rejected the Human Right’s proposed draft of the anti-forced conversion law, insisting that no forced conversions of religion are taking place in Pakistan. In September, the CII had conducted a brainstorming session about the proposed bill, and had invited a Barelvi cleric infamous for participating in forced conversions.

    The Peoples’ Commission for Minorities Rights, comprising various minority rights activists, endorsed the bill and condemned the political manoeuvring by the religious right.

    In October, the Parliamentary Committee convened to address the issue of forced conversions rejected the draft bill.

  • The first phase of Pakistan’s Single National Curriculum, for grades pre-1 to 5, was launched in August 2021. In-depth analyses of the curriculum confirmed that there is greater religious content in non-religious subjects – such as English, Science, Social Studies, Math and Urdu – and that much of the content prioritises the tenets of Sunni Islam, excluding minority religions.

During the period under review, Sri Lanka grappled with a crippling third wave of COVID-19 fuelled by the Delta variant, registering around 4,000 cases a day at its peak at the end of August – around 33% higher than during the peak of the second wave. The pandemic provided cover for the further general erosion of freedoms in the country, while minority Tamils and Muslims continued to face targeting in various forms.

Tamils:

  • Lohan Ratwatte, a Member of Parliament and the State Minister for Prison Management & Prisoners’ Rehabiliitation, was reported to entered the Anuradhapura Prison while inebriated with a group of friends, and threatened Tamil prisoners arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

    Witnesses told Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission, which visited the prison after the incident, that the Minister had the prisoners kneel and held a gun to their heads. The Commission was also told that prison authorities were merely going around ensuring security protocols for the minister were in place, and that Rotwatte appeared to have been given a free hand to threaten the Tamil prisoners at gunpoint.

    Ratwatte, who has resigned from the Prisons minister portfolio, continues to hold charge of another portfolio. Despite multiple witnesses, he has repeatedly denied that the incident happened. Ratwatte has a history of violent behaviour for which he continues to enjoy impunity, including for the shooting of 10 Muslims – supporters of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress - during an election in the year 2001.

    PTA prisoners are regularly subject to torture and long imprisonment periods without charge or trial. The fact that Ratwatte was not removed from office and continues to hold a ministerial portfolio indicates that continued mistreatment of these prisoners is acceptable.

  • Tamil journalist Punniyamoorthy Sasikaran was interrogated by police on several occasions over the last few months. He was questioned about his reporting and his alleged links to terrorist organisations. In July, he alleged to the Human Rights Commission that he had heard of an attempt by police to frame him for having a key role in the P2P protest march held in February. The participants of this protest have since come under constant scrutiny from the authorities.
  • Two instances of attempted land grabs in the North-Eastern region were blocked due to protests from the Tamil residents of the area. The first occurred in the region of Weli Oya or Manal Aru, and the second in the Vadduvakkal region of Mullaitivu, where occupied land was being surveyed for the establishment of a new defense compound.

    Civil society organisations have also raised concerns with the Government Agent of Jaffna requesting displaced people whose private lands are under military occupation for information on these lands. The representatives ask for more time for people to provide information and also look into the extensive information that people have already provided in the hopes of getting their lands back.

  • Curbing of Tamils’ memorialization attempts – that has been detailed in previous bulletins – also continues.

Muslims:

  • The detention of several individuals who were arrested on counts of ‘terrorism’ in the aftermath of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings and have been languishing in detention centres without trial, was further extended without charges.

    Local and international advocacy groups have continued to call for the release of lawyer Hejaaz Hisbullah and poet Ahnaf Jazeem who have also been detained on trumped-up charges of promoting terrorism.

  • Muslim women continued their decades-long effort to reform the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA).

    As discussions around the reforms are at the forefront, Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group (MPLRAG) carried out a campaign asking that Muslims women be allowed to sign their marriage certificates, currently not permitted under the law, where only the signature of the bride’s wali (guardian) is required.

    Justice Minister Ali Sabry has since announced that steps would be taken to allow Muslims to marry under the Marriage Registration Ordinance, and a committee was appointed to provide recommendations for reforms based on these proposals. The recommendations since made by this committee have yet to be made public, and some Muslim women advocates have also asked for more clarity while also commending the proposals. One key request is that the recommendations of the committee be made public.

    There are concerns among the Muslim community around leaked proposals that the quasi-courts that administer the MMDA be abolished, and that the law would be brought under the administration of district courts. Some Muslims believe it necessary because it discriminates against women, while others believe it would not be beneficial to bring the law under an already problematic and regressive institution. Others are skeptical of abolishing the quasi-courts as it would erode the individuality of the community that a personal law brings.

General erosion of freedoms against the backdrop of COVID-19:

  • Sri Lanka’s parliament approved a state of emergency declared by the president, who said it is needed to control food prices and prevent hoarding amid shortages of some staples. Authorities are now empowered – under the Public Security Ordinance - to seize stocks of staple foods and set their prices, to contain soaring inflation after a steep devaluation of its currency due to a foreign exchange crisis that the government itself was responsible for creating.

    The government has denied reports of food shortages, though images and anecdotes from people who were unable to purchase items due to these shortages say otherwise.

    Citizen groups raised concerns over the declaration of emergency, due to the near-unchecked power it gives the President.

    Soon after the state of emergency was declared, reports emerged of police brutality against Tamils and Muslims in the Eastern Province. These included a journalist who was beaten and detained for not wearing a face mask, two brothers beaten for travelling to a petrol station during a lockdown, and an instance of custodial torture and coerced confession.

  • There were numerous instances of protests and protesters being targeted by the state:

    Teachers and principals from schools and institutions undertook two protests this year, the first to demand an increase in their wages, and the second in opposition to a proposed piece of legislation that would bring a local university even more strictly under military control, with no oversight.

    The Kotalawala Defense University (KDU) Bill has been critiqued by politicians, educators and students, and the protestors were rallying against the militarization of education. Protestors in Colombo were beaten by Police and arrested, later released on bail by the Magistrates Court. However, after their release, protestors found themselves being led into Police buses and transported to quarantine centres, despite the court not ordering this. This was one of several instances detailed in previous updates where the pandemic has been used as a cover to stifle dissent. Protest followed as people rallied to speak up against the detention of these protestors, with some teachers refusing to teach online. The Colombo Additional Magistrate opined that Quarantine Law should not overpower people’s constitutionally protected right to expression, right to protest and freedom of speech.

    In the aftermath of the protests, the CID and select politicians have been aiming to paint the teachers protests as the reason behind the surging COVID cases at the time. Though their issues remain unresolved, intelligence agencies were reported to have been collecting information about dates and locations of certain demonstrations in a bid to demonise the protests alone for the spread of the virus.

  • There were several instances of Sri Lanka’s doctors and other medical professionals being targeted or sidelined:
    • Earlier this year, Sri Lanka’s Secretary to the Ministry of Health issued an order threatening disciplinary action against anyone in the health sector who spoke to the media. The Secretary alleged that this was because they were sharing ‘incorrect health-related information’ and because they were ‘criticising health policies.

      When COVID numbers surged, doctors took to social media to speak about the overwhelming situation in the hospitals they were based at – the lack of space for sick patients, the lack of medical equipment and how official numbers didn’t reflect the gravity of the situation.

      One of these doctors was Najith Indika, who was then interrogated by the CID for posting on Facebook about the situation at the Avissawella Hospital. State Minister of Health Prof. Channa Jayasumana also went on to criticize Dr. Indika for his comments. The continued intimidation of doctors in this manner distracts from the government’s own incompetence in managing the pandemic.

    • Sri Lanka was placed in ‘lockdown’ in late August, weeks after several organisations of medical professionals had written to the President and publicized the need for a lockdown to both curb the spread and give the health sector some space to catch up with the overwhelming number of cases, admissions and deaths. Many public health officials suspected that the delay in imposing lockdown had done enough damage by itself.

      News reports note that the President gave the order for lockdown after a request to do so came from the Chief Prelates of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters, senior Buddhist monks with significant social and political influence. This was after the President allowed the country’s main Buddhist celebration, the Kandy Esala Perahera, to continue during the critical pandemic period – without spectators, however 5000 artisans participated.

      The continuing crisis in the country was coupled with the reshuffle and resignation of several qualified medical professionals from their roles in pandemic management, as they felt medical expertise and public health was not being prioritized in the response.

      Health Minister Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, who had previously noted to media her worries that the government wasn’t taking care of the people, and that the people would need to protect themselves. Soon after, a Cabinet reshuffle saw Keheliya Rambukwella appointed Health Minister.

      Dr. Ananda Wijewickrema and Dr. Asoka Gunaratne, both recognized medical specialists, resigned from the COVID Technical Committee as they felt the decisions it was taking were not informed by medical factors.

  • Questions have also been raised about the lack of priority for vulnerable citizens to receive the vaccine. Jaffna-based journalist Pragas Gnanapragasam – who lived with muscular dystrophy – passed away due to COVID, days after posting on social media that his request to local health authorities to receive the vaccine had been denied. He was under the age of 30 and had presented documents highlighting his medical status yet had been refused the shot.

Criticism at international fora:

  • In her oral report to the Human Rights Council (HRC), the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet noted the issue of militarization, the de-radicalisation gazette, the impunity for military officials, the lack of progress in investigating the Easter Bombings, threats towards human rights defenders among many other concerns with regard to the situation in Sri Lanka.

    President Rajapaksa, speaking at the General Assembly, reportedly raised issues that have since drawn criticism, considering his government’s record of mismanaging these same factors. In addition, Rajapaksa also met with Secretary General Antonio Guterres, where he claimed the country was ready to work closely with the United Nations (UN), a far cry from the government’s dismissive attitude towards the HRC resolution and any UN recommendations for the country.


Cover image credits: Marcus Yam/The Los Angeles Times
The contents of this Online Bulletin are the sole responsibility of The South Asia Collective and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union or Norad.
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