Let us make the space we share better and bring the change we desire. Author is Indian Muslim, a Public Figure, Social Activist, Blogger and Media Personality. On mission to build a givers world rather than takers.
NEW DELHI: A US panel tracking international religious freedom has, in its latest report on India, noted that religious minorities in the country were exposed to “derogatory” comments by leaders of the ruling BJP as well as “violent attacks and forced conversions by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)” since the Narendra Modi government took over last year.
It has also slammed the “ghar wapsi” campaign and accused the “Hindu nationalist groups” of offering monetary inducements not only to Muslims and Christians to convert to Hinduism but also to Hindus who carry out such “forced” conversions.
The findings of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), largely based on the accounts of religious leaders of the minorities and non-government organisations in India, have led it to place India on its Tier 2 list of countries for the seventh year in a row.
However, even as it reported on the alleged violation of rights of Christians and Muslims in India in 2014, the panel squeezed in a reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s February 17 statement (made after the period covered by the report) condemning attacks on churches and assuring protection to the minorities, describing it as a “positive development”.
Yet, what is certain to rile India, the panel juxtaposed Modi’s February 17 assurance to Christians with the 2002 Gujarat riots, stating that the statement was notable given the “long-standing allegations that, as chief minister of Gujarat in 2002, Modi was complicit in anti-Muslim riots in that state” .
The report recalls that the State department had, in the light of these allegations, revoked in 2005 a tourist visa granted to Modi, “under a provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act that makes any foreign government official who was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom” ineligible for a US visa. “Prime Minister Modi remains the only person known to have been denied a visa based on this provision,” it emphasized.
Noting that incidents of “religiously-motivated and communal violence reportedly have increased for three consecutive years,” the USCIRF report stated that Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan “tend to have the greatest number of religiously-motivated attacks and communal violence incidents”.
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“NGOs and religious leaders, including from the Muslim, Christian, and Sikh communities, attributed the initial increase to religiously-divisive campaigning in advance of the country’s 2014 general election. Since the election, religious minority communities have been subject to derogatory comments by politicians linked to the ruling BJP and numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups, such as RSS and VHP,” according to the findings of USCIRF on the status of religious freedom in India during the past year.
“Based on these concerns, USCIRF again places India on its Tier 2 list of countries, where it has been since 2009,” said the panel. Slamming the ghar wapsi campaign, the USCIRF report noted that Hindu nationalist groups were not only paying off Christians and Muslims to convert to Hinduism but also reportedly offering monetary incentives to Hindus to convert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism.
“In December 2014, Hindu nationalist groups announced plans to forcibly reconvert at least 4,000 Christian families and 1,000 Muslim families to Hinduism in UP on Christmas Day as part of the so-called Ghar Wapsi program”.
“In advance of the program, the Hindu groups sought to raise money for their campaign, noting that it cost nearly Rs 2 lakh (nearly $3200) per Christian and Rs 5 lakh ($8,000) per Muslim”. However, it added, domestic and international criticism led “Mohan Bhagwat, a RSS leader” to postpone the programme. The report also referred to the alleged mass ceremony held in Agra in December last year to forcibly reconvert hundreds of Muslims to Hinduism.
“Members of the RSS allegedly tricked dozens of Muslim families into attending a meeting by telling them they would be provided financial help, but instead a Hindu religious leader performed a Hindu conversion ceremony,” the US panel noted, adding that investigation was underway into the case. “The nationalist groups also allegedly target Dalits if they are believed to be considering conversion away from Hinduism,” according to the report.
While noting that nearly half a dozen states in India has laws against forced conversions, the US panel alleged these were “one-sided, only concerned about conversions away from Hinduism but not towards Hinduism”.
“Observers note they create a hostile, and on occasion violent, environment for religious minority communities because they do not require any evidence to support accusations,” it added.
Stating that Christian communities, across many denominations, reported an increase in harassment and violence in the last year, including physical violence, arson, desecration of churches and the Bible, and disruption of religious services, the USCIRF said the perpetrators are “often individuals and groups associated with the RSS and VHP and operate with near impunity. It added that even the local police were found wanting in action against the perpetrators. “Reportedly, local police seldom provide protection, refuse to accept complaints, rarely investigate and in a few cases encourage Christian to move or hide their religion,” noted the panel.
The report mentioned that around 38 attacks on churches and Christian institutions were reported by the Evangelical Fellowship of India in November and December 2014 alone. These included the vandalisation of churches in Delhi and alleged assault on Catholic carollers in Hyderabad by a mob, besides attacking of a Catholic shopkeeper in Delhi by an “estimated 25 Hindu nationalists for displaying images of Jesus in the storefront window”.
Also faulting India on protection of Muslims, the USCIRF report said the community had to face significant hate campaigns by Hindu nationalist groups and local and state politicians, “that includes widespread media propaganda accusing Muslims of being terrorists; spying for Pakistan; forcibly kidnapping, converting and marrying Hindu women; and disrespecting Hinduism by slaughtering cows. “..the Muslim community reports that mosques are monitored and young boys and men are detained indiscriminately under the pretext of countering terrorism,” it noted adding that the minority community also complained about some Indian states violating their religious freedom by banning cow slaughter, “which is required for Eid-al-Adha”.
Regarding the religious freedom of Sikhs, the USCIRF report observed: “The lack of recognition of Sikhism as a distinct religion denies Sikhs access to social services or employment and educational preferences that are available to other religious minority communities and to Scheduled Castes Hindus…Sikhs are often harassed and pressured to reject religious practices…such as dress, unshorn hair, and the carrying of…kirpan,” it said.
The panel noted that prosecution and trial of communal cases was slow in India. “The Indian courts are still adjudicating cases stemming from large-scale Hindu-Muslim communal violence in Uttar Pradesh in 2013 and in Gujarat in 2002, Hindu-Christian communal violence in Odisha in 2007-2008, and Hindu-Sikh communal violence in Delhi in 1984. NGOs, religious leaders, and human rights activists allege religious bias and corruption in these investigations and adjudications,” it stated.