Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Top US panel wants danger to religious freedom be part of India-US dialogue; Sangh Parivar smells rat

Dr Katrina Lantos Swett at the hearing
By Our Representative
With opinion polls showing that Narendra Modi-led NDA is all set to register a clear majority in Lok Sabha polls, the United States’ powerful Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC), a Congressional arm meant to “develop congressional strategies to promote, defend and advocate internationally recognized human rights norms”, has begun to take a serious note of the alleged danger to religious freedom in India. While the US has considered human rights as part of its US-China strategic dialogue, a hearing held at the TLHRC tried to assess whether it should now become part of the the US-India strategic dialogue framework, too.

Already, there is flutter in the Sangh Parivar circles over the hearing and its possible outcome. Anirban Ganguly director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi, has strongly protested against the hearing, calling the hearing as a “blatant attempt to interfere in the legitimate democratic process of another country.” In a recent commentary, he has accused the commission for “fomenting the impression that the Indian elections – one of the largest democratic exercise in the world – are being held in a polarised atmosphere where the religious minorities face discrimination.”
Among those who took part at the hearing included Dr Katrina Lantos Swett, vice chair, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch, Robin Phillips, executive director, The Advocates for Human Rights, and John Dayal, member, National Integration Council, Government of India. Ganguly especially object to the commission saying in the months leading up to 2014 polls, there has been “a rise in acts of violence targeting religious minorities and an increase in discriminatory rhetoric that has polarised national politics along religious and class lines.”
Robin Phillips particularly expressed concern that “Indian diaspora groups are worried about “religious freedom in India”, adding, “We share their concerns, including: communal violence; impunity for the instigators of such violence and those in government who may be complicit; anti-conversion laws; vague anti-terrorism laws that facilitate profiling and persecution of Muslims; police and armed forces practices such as encounter killings and torture targeting Muslims; and a culture of impunity for such practices.”
John Dayal at the hearing
Pointing out that “these practices violate international human rights standards”, Phillips cited the Pew Research Center to say that India is today a country with “very high social hostilities involving religion” and “high” government restrictions on religion. He added, “Indian diasporans around the world have been sounding the alarm as elections approach. In the first eight months of 2013, there were 451 incidents of communal violence, up from 410 in all of 2012.”
Citing the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Phillips said, the top UN official has cautioned that “political exploitation of communal distinctions” presents “a real risk that [large scale] communal violence might happen again”, adding, “Cases brought against officials alleged to be complicit in the 2002 Gujarat violence have been dismissed for lack of evidence after witnesses were intimidated and prosecutors and judges effectively stood in as defense counsel. UN human rights bodies have described the proceedings as ‘flawed from the outset,’ reflecting concerns of religious bias and high levels of corruption.”
Ganguly, in his commentary, particularly objected to the haring by Dayal, “The purported objective of the hearing, as described by the Commission, was to examine this [phenomenon of] polarisation in the context of the US-India relationship’, (but) in a brazenly partisan attitude which points to the fact that India and especially the BJP-ruled states remain the target of sizable external Christian missionary-connected or supported conglomerates, the Commission interfered in India’s internal domestic affairs and law making institutions expressed its concern that the ‘Freedom of Religion Act’ implemented ‘across five Indian States’ has actually ‘exacerbated discrimination’ and ‘intimidation’ of minorities.”
Saying that it is an issue of “major concern” that the commission listed Dayal, as one of the witnesses, who focused on “the human rights situation for religious minorities in India” and “provide recommendations for US foreign policy relation to India”, Ganguly underlines, “It is common knowledge that Dayal was also closely associated with the activities of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC), especially in the body’s nefarious attempt at evolving a flawed and skewed Communal Violence Bill”. He adds, “Dayal has been misrepresenting Hindus and Hindu organisations on foreign soil.”

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