Activists, organisations express concern after USCIRF report

By TCN News,

New Delhi/Washington: The Indian American Muslim Council ( IAMC ), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, has welcomed the recommendations on India in a report released in the US by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and called on India to heed its recommendations.

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Activist John Dayal said in Delhi the state apparatus, including subordinate judiciary and criminal justice systems in the districts, which are under great political pressure, add to the impunity of the State, if not its active connivance.

For representational purpose only (Credit: Indian Express)

Apart from its appeal to India, the IAMC has also urged the US State Department to take cognizance of the report – released on Thursday – when issuing its own report on international religious freedom, and to act on USCIRF’s multiple recommendations on including religious freedom concerns in bilateral talks with India.

“Of particular significance is the fact that the USCIRF report again places India on the Tier 2 list of countries where religious freedom is at risk. India has been on this list every year since 2009. The chapter on India in the report documents violence as well as the sharp increase in hate campaigns against religious minorities, including Christians, Muslims and Sikhs. It notes with concern the renewed calls for legislating on a national level, anti-conversion laws that have been used to restrict freedom of religion in some states,” IAMC said in a release.

The report has also cited physical violence, arson, desecration of churches and attempts to forcibly “reconvert” thousands of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. It clearly points to Hindu supremacist forces for most of the religiously motivated violence and attacks on freedom of religion. “The perpetrators are often individuals and groups associated with the RSS and VHP and operate with near impunity,” the report stated.

“The USCIRF report represents international recognition of the growing attacks on minorities in India by Hindutva forces, including those that are part of the ruling dispensation,” said Umar Malick, IAMC president. “India remaining on USCIRF’s Tier 2 list of countries since 2009 is an unfortunate but inevitable fact, given the ground realities in India. Instead of taking steps to address concerns about religious minorities, the BJP administration’s sectarian and divisive agenda has only resulted in a worsening of India’s record on religious freedom. The international community is rightly concerned about India’s religious minorities, given the attacks have targeted them, their institutions and places of worship and their ability to practice their religions. In the case of Sikhs, Hindutva elements have even targeted the community’s right to self-identification as a distinct religious community,” Malick added.

“From programs known as ‘ghar wapsi’ intended to forcibly convert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, to hate campaigns calling for the disenfranchisement of Muslims and for forced sterilization of Christians and Muslims, the situation of minorities under the BJP rule has become precarious,” the statement said.

“We believe the report’s recommendation is best fulfilled through inclusion of religious freedom and human rights in the US-India Strategic Dialogue,” stated Khalid Ansari, vice president of IAMC.

In Delhi, John Dayal, activist and spokesman, United Christian Forum and past national president, All India Catholic Union, said: “India has been placed in Tier II of the countries of concern for freedom of religion and belief by United States USCIRF. I would say the Sangh Parivar is almost the one single entity that has triggered the international scrutiny of India’s record of its treatment of religious, and in many cases, its ethnic minorities. The Sangh is hostile, intolerant and full of hate, against all religious minorities, even if its primary target may be Muslims and Christians. The silence of (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi, on their activities and his refusal or failure to condemn his former comrades in the Sangh aggravate the situation.”

Modi’s cabinet ministers, including Home Minister Rajnath Singh, have been harping on brining a national law against conversions shows this clearly, Dayal said, adding, states such as Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh which have existing anti conversion laws, and Orissa which saw the massacre of Christians in 2008, are the worst in targeting Christians. “Muslims remain major victims. The government must publish a White Paper on Conversions and the targeting of Christians and Muslims.”

The state apparatus, including subordinate judiciary and criminal justice systems in the districts, which are under great political pressure, add to the impunity of the State, if not its active connivance, he alleged.

The government is the main agency which can take steps to reassure the minorities of their security and freedom of faith and belief, and which can contain the hate apparatus and the violent elements and restore the rule of law in this, Dayal said. “This is the only way it can raise its head high in the international forums. It needs to be remembered that India is a signatory to the Universal charter of human rights, and has a constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.”