Washington, Feb 10: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) has taken a strong objection and expressed deep concern over the report published by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on religious minorities in India.
The report titled ‘Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India’ is authored by London-based Pakistani-British activist Dr. Iqtidar Karamat Cheema. Dr. Cheema is the Director of the Institute for Leadership and Community Development, based in Birmingham, England.
The VHPA in a statement said that the report “is nothing more than an effort in perpetuating anti-India prejudices and propaganda, otherwise peddled by violent separatists in Punjab and Islamic terror groups in Kashmir”.
The VHPA is appalled to see USCIRF associate with an individual like Dr. Cheema, who publicly supported anti-India groups. With partners like these, it is USCIRF that stands to lose its credibility further, the VHPA said.
Meanwhile, the #USCIRF report examined the alleged violations of human rights of Dalits and Minorities in India vis-à-vis India’s Constitution.
“India is a religiously diverse and democratic society with a constitution that provides legal equality for its citizens irrespective of their religion and prohibits religion-based discrimination,” said USCIRF Chairman Thomas J. Reese, S.J. “However, the reality is far different. In fact, India’s pluralistic tradition faces serious challenges in a number of its states. During the past few years, religious tolerance has deteriorated and religious freedom violations have increased in some areas of India. To reverse this negative trajectory, the Indian and state governments must align their laws with both the country’s constitutional commitments and international human rights standards,” the report mentioned.
The study highlights opportunities for the Indian government to revise laws so that they would align with the country’s constitution and international human rights standards. The study also makes recommendations to the U.S. government on ways to promote religious freedom in India.
The report highlighted that religious minorities and Dalits in India are facing discrimination and persecution where hate crimes, social boycotts and forced conversions have escalated dramatically since 2014 i.e. after the NDA government came to power at the centre.
The USCIRF report said: “Under Congress Party and BJP-led governments, 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.”
“In particular, since 2014, hate crimes, social boycotts, assaults, and forced conversion have escalated dramatically.”
The USCIRF report recommends the US Government to put religious freedom and human rights at the heart of all trade, aid, and diplomatic interactions with India.
Running into 22 pages, the report alleges that there are constitutional provisions and state and national laws in India that do not comply with international standards of freedom of religion or belief, including Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The report alleges that following the victory of BJP in May 2014 elections, concerns have been mounting about the fate of religious minorities in India.
"As feared by many faith communities across India, threats, hate crimes, social boycotts, desecrations of places of worship, assaults, and forced conversions led by radical Hindu nationalist movements have escalated dramatically under the BJP-led government," the author said.
According to ‘Dawn’ report, the study notes that of India’s 1.2 billion people nearly 80 per cent are Hindus, with an estimated 172.2 million Muslims, 27.8 million Christians, 20.8 million Sikhs, and 4.5 million Jains. The Muslim population makes India the third largest Muslim country in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan.
The study notes that of the 29 states in India, seven — Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh — have adopted anti-conversion laws that encourage inequitable practices against minorities.
The report claims that “both by their design and implementation”, anti-conversion laws “infringe upon the individual’s right to convert, favour Hinduism over minority religions, and represent a significant challenge to Indian secularism”.
State governments have used these laws to prevent Christian missions from providing humanitarian and development aid to certain communities, arguing that such assistance encourages “improper and unethical conversions”.
The Freedom of Religion Act is not enforced when the religious minorities are converted to Hinduism, which instead is interpreted as Ghar Wapsi or homecoming the report noted.
This encourages reconversion by “use of force, fraud, or allurement is not punishable under the provisions of these acts”, the report alleged.
The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), passed in 1976 and amended in 2010, is used consistently against civil society organisations, charities, and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Under this legislation, missionaries and foreign religious organisations must comply with the FCRA, which limits overseas assistance to certain NGOs, including ones with religious affiliation.
The USCIRF report also examines India’s cow protection laws, which, it says, are often mixed with anti-Muslim sentiment.
One of the most recent and clear examples of Muslim persecution through the politics of cow protection is the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq by Hindu mobs in September 2015.