In 2018, women and girls in India continued to be the targets of intracommunal honor killings, intercommunal violence, and sexual violence along religious lines. In a 2018 incident known as the Kathua rape case, an eight year old girl named Asifa Bano was abducted, gang-raped, and murdered as a message and threat to her Muslim nomadic community in Kashmir.
The priest of a private temple, his son, and a special police officer were charged in the abduction, gang rape, and murder; several other police officers were charged with covering up the crimes. While many decried the young girl’s rape and murder, several others organized in support of the men charged, including members of the BJP.
The year 2018 marked a renewed focus on and discussion of restrictions placed on women’s ability to worship at certain religious sites. In September 2018, the Supreme Court of India ordered that Sabarimala temple in Kerala be opened to adult women, striking down a longstanding ban on women between the ages of 10 and 50 from taking the special pilgrimage to the temple.
In response, women attempting to enter the temple were physically attacked and others who publicly stated that they would try to enter the temple received hate messages including death threats both online and in-person. Nearly five million women reportedly initiated a counter- protest movement in January 2019, after the reporting period, by forming a 385-mile human chain near the temple to protest in favor of equal access for all.
Based on these concerns, in 2019 USCIRF again places India on its Tier 2 for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, egregious” standard for designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). While the Indian government repeatedly has denied USCIRF access to India, the Commission welcomes the opportunity to openly and candidly engage with the government—including the chance for a USCIRF delegation to visit India—to discuss shared values and interests, including international standards of freedom of religion or belief and related human rights.