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Indian government acknowledges surge in religion-based violence

(Reuters/Danish Siddiqui)A protester holds a placard during a rally by hundreds of Christians against recent attacks on churches nationwide, in Mumbai February 9, 2015.

India' pro-Hindu government has released figures indicating a surge in religion-based violence, confirming a long-standing allegation by rights groups that the situation of religious minorities is worsening.

According to UCA News, the latest statistics, released on Feb. 6, showed that 111 people have been killed and at least 2,384 injured in 822 cases of sectarian violence in 2017, the highest figure in the past three years.

In 2016, 86 people were killed, while 2,321 were injured in 703 incidents of religion-based violence.

The report noted that the highest number of sectarian incidents took place in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. There were 195 incidents of religion-based violence in the state in 2017, killing 44 people and injuring 452.

Rights groups have alleged that the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads the federal coalition government, has been fanning the flames of intolerance and asserted that the administration is supportive of violence carried out by Hindu groups against religious minorities in its desire to make India a Hindu-only state.

A report by the Mumbai-based Center for Study of Society and Secularism has stated that the active promotion of Hindu nationalism by some BJP leaders had resulted in the spike in communal violence in India since the party came to power in 2014.

It went on to note that the failure by authorities to investigate or prevent attacks by extremist groups have "created a climate of impunity" and might lead to more attacks.

Colin Gonsalves, a Supreme Court lawyer and founder-director of the Human Rights Law Network, warned that religion-based violence, even if they occurred in far-flung villages, were part of a "national conspiracy" and damaged the basic tenets of India's constitution.

"Sectarian violence, like terrorism, should not be seen only as a law and order problem. Hate speech, like a terror incident, may happen in a village but the conspiracy has to be uncovered nationally," he said.

In a 2017 analysis by the U.S. think tank Pew Research Center, India has been ranked among the worst in the world for religious intolerance, trailing only behind Syria, Nigeria and Iraq.

"Over the past three years, the space for liberal discussion in the country has become narrower. This has been shown by repeated incidents of threats, assassinations and lynching, along with the banning and burning of books," said Indian journalist Murali Krishnan, who reports current and social affairs in South Asia.

Meanwhile, Open Doors USA has ranked India at 11th place in the 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution for their faith.

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