Report: Religious Intolerance Is the 'New Racism'

( [email protected] ) Jul 05, 2010 01:12 PM EDT

According to a leading minority rights organization, religious minorities are facing attack, detention, torture and the repression of their fundamental freedoms on every continent.

“Religious intolerance is the new racism,” says Mark Lattimer, director of Minority Rights Group International. “Many communities that have faced racial discrimination for decades are now being targeted because of their religion.”

The London-based group notes in State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 that religious minorities in South Asia are facing increased incidents of targeted attacks and persecution "as states are turning a blind eye to the rise of nationalist and radical groups that are responsible for such acts."

In its South Asia chapter, the report criticizes India for human rights violations against minorities, indigenous communities and Dalits despite strong constitutional guarantees on minority protection.

It asserts that violence against minorities was mainly due to a “growing trend of radical, sometimes militant, nationalism and religious extremism” throughout the region that is posing a major threat to religious minorities.

The report accuses Hindu nationalist extremists for continuing to “threaten Christians and Muslims, particularly among the poorest and most marginalized sections of society, such as the Dalits.”

"In some South Asian states, national or regional governments are actively supporting extremist groups, while in other cases states are turning a blind eye to their increasing influence," says Shobha Das, MRG’s head of programs,

"Nationalist and extremist groups quite often have a free hand to target religious minorities due to a climate of impunity," she adds.

In its report, MRG says the 2008 violence against Christians and the climate of impunity towards violations of religious rights was the chief reason that the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom placed India on its watchlist. This, it says, had been a major blow to India’s reputation for fostering religious pluralism.

The report continues, stating that Christians in India face threats and intimidation and are forcibly made to convert to Hinduism.

"According to national newspaper reports in February 2009, 18 Catholic families were forcibly taken to a Hindu temple, where they were made to convert and perform Hindu rituals, as well as then sign statements that they had voluntarily converted."

The report also notes an increase of similar attacks against Christians in neighboring countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan.

"Across South Asia, irrespective of the religious community you belong to, simply being in the minority puts you under increased threat of attack and persecution," says Farah Mihlar, author of the South Asia chapter.

"The violence against religious minorities can often be gendered, and there have been incidents of rape reported by these communities," she adds.

The report was released Thursday and also highlights that the targeting of minorities on religious grounds is now increasingly becoming a trend in most of Western Europe and in North America.