New US report exposes India’s mistreatment of minorities

Indian Christians hold placards and banners during a protest in New Delhi on September 26, 2008, held to draw attention to continued anti-Christian violence in the southern Indian state of Karnataka and the eastern state of Orissa. Christian leaders in India have asked for the deployment of soliders in the restive states. Some twelve people have died in Orissa's Kandhamai region and Karnatka since the death of Hindu Priest and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Lakshananananda Saraswait and four others who were shot dead by unidentified killers in Orissa in August. AFP PHOTO/RAVEENDRAN / AFP PHOTO / RAVEENDRAN

India fails to comply with international standards on freedom of religion leading to the discrimination and persecution of religious minorities, said a new report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The report, “Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India” said that, although the country’s Constitution guarantees equal rights to religious minorities, the government fails to comply with international standards.

US Commission on International Religious Freedom
(http://www.uscirf.gov/) has asked newly-appointed President Donald Trump to put
“religious freedom and human rights at the heart of all trade, aid, and diplomatic
interactions with India” and urge the Government of India “to push Indian
states that have adopted anti-conversion laws to repeal or amend them to
conform to international norms.”

In an unusually sharp critique of the BJP-led NDA government, the USCIRF
wants the US administration to identify and act against “Hindutva groups
that raise funds from US citizens and support hate campaigns in India”,
adding, “Such groups should be banned from operating in the US if they are found
to spread hatred against religious minorities in India.”

Referring to the March 2016 amendment to the FCRA, introduced “to legalize
funding by foreign entities to political parties”, the USCIRF states, “
The amendment enables foreign Hindu organizations to send money to
India-based radical Hindu organizations”.
It insists, these radical groups “have been seeking funds for the
controversial Ghar Wapsi campaign ”, launched by Hindutva groups to aggressively
oppose the right to convert to religions like Islam and Christianity.

Especially citing a report prepared by US-based South Asia Citizens Web
(SACW), “Hindu Nationalism in the United States”, USCIRF says, the report
refers “policies and actions of Hindu radical groups in the US, and covers
tax records, newspaper articles, and other sources on the NGOs in the US
affiliated with the Sangh Parivar … and BJP.”

USCIRF approvingly quotes the SACW report as saying, “India-based Sangh
affiliates receive social and financial support from its US-based wings, the
latter of which exist largely as tax-exempt non-profit organizations in the
US.”

SAWC, says USCIRF, identifies US-based organizations which carry out these
activities. These are “Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad of
America, Sewa International USA, Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation-USA, and the
Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party-USA.”

USCIRF regrets, “While the Indian government continues to use the FCRA to
limit foreign funding for some NGOs, Hindutva supporter organizations have
never come under the scrutiny of the FCRA”, adding, “With the new
amendment to the FCRA, these foreign-based radical Hindu organizations will be able
to send funds to India, without restriction, to support hate campaigns.”

At the same time, the report states, the FCRA is being used against
organizations which take up human rights of minorities, pointing to how the Modi
government has been blocking funds “to hamper the activities of NGOs that
question or condemn the government or its policies”.

It also enumerates India’s failure to ensure the rights of Dalit people, those from socially and economically poor castes, once considered untouchables. “Religious minority communities and Dalits, both have faced discrimination and persecution due to a combination of overly broad or ill-defined laws, an inefficient criminal justice system, and a lack of jurisprudential consistency,” the report said.

Hindus form the majority 80 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people while Muslims form some 15 percent. Christians, the second largest religious minority, form just 2.3 percent. Dalits and tribal people make up 70 percent of India’s 27 million Christians.

In 2016, at least 10 Christians were killed and over 500 members of the community were attacked for their faith or for allegedly converting people to Christianity, said a report by the Catholic Secular Forum in January 2017.

“Symbolic and structural violence has increased in the country since 2014. The government needs to respond to such violence in a much more sensible way rather than denying it,” said Samuel Jaikumar of the National Council of Churches in India, a union of all Protestant and Orthodox Churches.

The U.S. report said that seven of the 29 states have adopted laws banning religious conversions, which has resulted in inequitable practices. The report said that state governments have described church humanitarian aid and development “as a cause of improper and unethical conversions.”

The report also said that India’s law to regulate foreign funding has consistently been used against civil society organizations, charities and other non-governmental organizations that question government policies.

In June 2015, India put the leading Christian charity, Caritas International, on its watch list. The charity, which is the social arm of the Vatican, was scrutinized for alleged “anti-India activities,” the report said.

With a special reference, in this context, to the clampdown on human
rights activist Teesta Setalvad for “violating” FCRA, the report praises her
for “campaigning to seek criminal charges against Indian officials, including
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for their alleged involvement in the
anti-Muslim riots.”

Referring to the Indian Divorce Act 2001 that restricts inheritance, alimony payments, and property ownership of people from interfaith marriages, the report said the law is “problematic.”
“The act also interferes in the personal lives of Christians by not allowing marriage ceremonies to be conducted in a church if one of the partners is non-Christian,” it added.

The cow protection laws in India which restrict or ban cow slaughter are “often mixed with anti-Muslim sentiment,” the report said. Cow slaughter “has remained a perpetual source of tension between Hindu, Muslim and Dalit communities.”

In recommendation, it said that India should stop harassing groups, reform anti-conversion laws, and establish “a test of reasonableness” surrounding prohibitions on cow slaughter. It also asked India to adopt the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

 

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