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Freedom of religion, belief of a persecuted community: Rohingiyas - contextual analysis

By Rachel Irene D’Silva 

Human Rights are universal, to live free and in equality and dignity is right of all persons, all over and all times. Freedom of Religion is given to all persons living in India. People have the right to religious and non- religious belief, manifest and practice religion. The Freedom of Religion safeguards against discrimination or coercion by State and non- state actors. Rohingyas are the world’s most persecuted minority. Their religious affiliation is basically belonging to Muslims. In order to grapple with the context of Freedom of Religion and Belief the situation of human rights for Rohingyas must be seen as a cause for their displacement and migration to other countries. Soon after the military crackdown on Rohingyas in 2017, millions of them were forced to flee at once and become refugees. Kan Kya was one of the 400 villages destroyed by the Myanmar military in 2017 as per Human Rights Watch according to analyzed satellite images. Says the religious leader, former chairman of a village near Kan Kya, the Myanmar government intention is that we do not return.
The United Nations has started to study the impact of government policies on villagers and returning refugees after the Arakan Rohingya National Organization – UK based Rohingya rights group complained to the United Nations about removal of village names. Yanghee Lee, former UN Human rights envoy to Myanmar said, the government by making it purposely made it hard for refugees to return to places with no name and no evidence they lived there found this as way of exterminating their basic identity. And, the Rohingyas in Bangladesh said they will not return to Myanmar to be confined to camps after their return visit to encourage their voluntary repatriation to Myanmar.
Early warning project 2022 determines the possibility or onset of mass killing marks India as country of high risk because of its large population, its history of mass killing, its geographic region (South and Central Asia), and the presence of battle related deaths (Armed conflicts), and Kashmir insurgents. The report shows the country’s Muslim minority face government’s systematic discrimination and violence met with impunity and restriction of Muslims rights. Through hate speech by Hindu nationalist leaders and religious leaders Muslims there were calls for mass killings of Muslims. Large scale violent incidents targeting Muslims which involved Hindu nationalist processions engaging in derogatory anti-Muslim chants and desecration of mosques. Bull-zing Muslim owned properties across several states. Abuses in disputed Muslim majority territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Christians and Dalits continue to face violence and discrimination.
The International Freedom of Religion and Belief in India in the present times is severely violated by State and non- State actors. Minorities, Dalits and tribal people face discrimination in society. When religion intersects with gender, race, class, caste for instance, during the police interrogation (State) people have suffered from violation of FORB. The second issue is the limitation or restriction on FORB for example the laws (State) against the freedom to religious conversions. Third issue is the right to life and security of minorities due to the instances of hate crimes. The fourth issue is the Freedom from discrimination and coercion by laws that lead to feeling of discrimination among the Muslim community or religious minorities, for example Citizenship Act. Conflicts resulted in death of Hindus and Sikhs in Kashmir valley and vandalism against facilities of Muslims such as shops, houses. The last issue is failure or inability to safeguard the human rights in the society of all people that are seen in outcomes of mob lynching.
The context of the minorities in South Asia, the discrimination on the basis of religion, arrests are an issue of FORB connected to the Freedom from Discrimination, example journalist from Kerala faced arrest he was forced to become victim of discrimination. Pehlu Khan, a Muslim cow vendor was lynched on suspicion of beef. These social hostilities and extremist violence affected men from particular religion.
In the context of India, the restrictions to religious conversions are stringent and not the solution that is appropriate to handle the problem of freedom to convert. For example, according to the US Department of State report, “Ten of 28 states have laws restricting religious conversions. Four state governments have laws imposing penalties against so-called forced religious conversions for the purpose of marriage although some state high courts have dismissed cases charged under this law.”
According to the report, “In addition, during the year the government suspended FCRA licenses of 179 NGOs, including some that were faith-based.” which stretched the condition of a “reasonable limitation” on Freedom of Religion. The context of India shows that the “Right to Life and Security” of people from different religious and spiritual traditions faces threat due to rising hate crimes and attacks on religious festivals, gathering or individuals. According to the Report by US Department of State, “Some NGOs reported that the government failed to prevent or stop attacks on religious minorities. A faith-based NGO stated in its annual report that out of 112 complaints of violence filed by Christian victims from January to August, police filed official reports (First Information Report or FIR) in 25 cases. There were no updates on these cases by the end of the year.”
Freedom of Religion and Belief and conflicts, The US Department of State Report said that “The most recent National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) report, Crime in India for 2020, released in September, said that the violence in New Delhi in February 2020 following passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) resulted from a “feeling of discrimination” among the Muslim community.” The US Department of State Report has said that violence against the religious minorities. This means that conflicts in society over FORB have manifested in India.
The state’s duty bound morally and legally to protect persons from violations on the basis of religion or belief. Minorities and vulnerable groups in India face disadvantage in society due to social and economic factors. This affects the Freedom of Religion and Belief widely. Due to social and economic factors vulnerable Muslim men and tribals were attacked on suspicion of cattle. The vulnerable groups were affected by the political plunder. In the spur of the moment, religious heads, political leaders made inflammatory speech. These attacks against minorities were not countered effectively by the State and few of them were taken seriously.
In India, Refugees have historically been accepted by the State. Countries in turmoil sent refugees to India and people of different religions and faiths were believed to have come to India. Some of the examples of refugees were Tibetan fleeing the invasion of Tibet. The refugees from Afghanistan came to India and the Sri Lankan Tamils fleeing the ethnic conflict in their home have been seeking refuge. About 40,000 Rohingyas are living as protracted conditions as refugees in India.

Institutional violence and complicity

With reference to Freedom of Religion and Belief of Rohingyas in India this section reflects on the prevailing culture in Indian society. The Indian society has for centuries survived as a multicultural society, accepting all faiths. India constitutionally is secular State. The Freedom of Religion is protected Constitutionally under Articles 25, 26 and 27. In India, Rohingyas are lacking effectively legal protection and they are also stateless persons. The OCHR termed them as “stateless and statusless”. India, did not sign the International Refugee Law to refugees. Refugees are presently being supported by UNHCR.
The complicity of State in showing discrimination on the grounds of religion are documented by the human rights defenders. As a most recent pronouncement by the State was in 2020, as there were plans to deport them from India. As a group they are legally protected by International Law frameworks from non-refoulement by being refugees.

Impact of contextual factors on communities in Delhi and Haryana

In order to analyze the impact of structural factors in relation with Freedom of Religion and Belief of individuals and communities. Structural violence harms other rights such as housing, work, citizenship, identity, conversion, justice, land, clothes, travel, education, health, land, inheritance and language.
In this regard the Rohingya community in Delhi and Haryana was visited and the situation showed that refugee children were living in settlements that are unfit for living. Their right to shelter was severely affected and basic needs such as access to education, water and sanitation in the settlements are affected.

Identity of minorities

In January 2019, UNHCR India acknowledged the presence of 18,000 Rohingyas which are registered. In a dominant culture Rohingyas are subjugated socially and culturally. Visiting the refugee camps and discussing with refugees brought out the prevailing sense of discrimination, risks and surveillance as part of the state of exception that these refugees are subjected on daily basis in the settlements. For instance, their freedom of movement and other rights are restricted. They could be seen as becoming institutional victims of nationalism, racism, religious bias, ignorance, class discrimination and other social formations.


This study has made an attempt to assess persecution of Rohingyas, world’s most persecuted minority in a contextual framework in India. With reference to Freedom of Religion and Belief the most basic rights of individuals and communities are affected by more powerful sections of society and Indian State. These are right to work, right to life and security, freedom from discrimination, freedom from coercion and right to worship. This affects the peaceful co-existence of migrants and refugees with other communities and cultures in the society. It affects access to justice and access to healthcare of individuals which are harmful for meeting sustainable development goals. It has a negative effect on rule of law and citizenship for promoting diversity and gender equality. Promoting greater individual and group rights and respect for all faiths and cultures will empower the minorities in this present context.
  • Paul, R. (2023, May 6). Rohingyas say will not go home to Myanmar to be stuck in camps.
  • Pherson, P. M. (2020, September 11). Three years after exodus, Myanmar erases names of Rohingya villages, U.N. map makers follow suit.
  • State, U. D. (2021). US Department of State Report 2021 on International Religious Freedom in India.



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