Indian Americans Call for Upholding Religious Freedom in India

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Christians and Muslims sit in the rain during a protest rally in New Delhi. Raveendran | AFP | Getty Images
Christians and Muslims sit in the rain during a protest rally in New Delhi against the growing attacks on minorities in the country. Raveendran | AFP | Getty Images

Indian Americans urge India and US to heed USCIRF’s recommendations on safeguarding religious freedom and preventing attacks on minorities

WASHINGTON — The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC – www.iamc.com), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos,  has welcomed the recommendations on India in the report released Thursday by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and called on India to heed its recommendations.

IAMC has also urged the US State Department to take cognizance of the report 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.

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 Mr. Umar Malick, President of Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC).

“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,” added Mr. Malick.

Although India’s traditionally pluralist society has seen a decline in religious freedom in the last two decades due to the growing influence of the supremacist ideology of Hindutva, the deterioration since the movement’s political wing came to power last year has been dramatic. 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 the forced sterilization of Christians and Muslims, the situation of minorities under the BJP rule has become precarious.

IAMC has urged the US government to accept the report’s recommendation to integrate concern for religious freedom in its bilateral talks with India. “We believe the report’s recommendation is best fulfilled through an inclusion of religious freedom and human rights in the US-India Strategic Dialogue,” stated Mr. Khalid Ansari, Vice-President of IAMC.

IAMC is the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the United States with chapters across the nation.

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