Thursday, April 30, 2015

"Bailing out" Modi, US religious freedom panel attacks his right-hand Amit Shah's call for national anti-conversion law

By Our Representative
Even as giving the impression that it has spared Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the influential US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in its just released annual report has attacked his right-hand, BJP chief Amit Shah, along with other "high-ranking members of the ruling BJP" , for declaring the need for a "nationwide anti-conversion law".
Report says, the US government should instead ensure, through the Government of India, that Indian states, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Arunanchal Pradesh and Odisha, repeal or amend their respective anti-conversion laws to "conform with internationally-recognized human rights standards."
Wanting the US government put its foot down on this score, the USCIRF wants the White House to "integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateral contacts with India, including the framework of future strategic dialogues, at both the federal and provincial level".
While "bailing out" Modi, the USCIRF appreciates his recent statement where he stressed on the need for religious freedom, calling it "a positive development", recalling how he "honored" some Indian Catholic saints, telling them for the first time that his government “will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice.”
But it recalls that in 2005, referring to the 2002 riots in Gujarat, the US State Department revoked Modi's tourist visa 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." It underlines, "Prime Minister Modi remains the only person known to have been denied a visa based on this provision."
The report sharply attacks efforts by the Sangh Parivar, especially RSS and VHP, for its "ghar vapsi" campaign, referring to how 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 Uttar Pradesh on Christmas day. In advance of the programme, the Hindu groups sought to raise money for their campaign, noting that it cost nearly Rs 200,000 (US $3,200) per Christian and Rs 500,000 (US $8,000) per Muslim."
While the programme was postponed after widescape outrage, the report says, ever since the last 2014 polls, "religious minority communities have been subject to derogatory comments by politicians linked to the ruling BJP", and this has continued alongside "numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups, such as RSS and VHP".
Voicing concern of "Christian NGOs and leaders", the report says, they particularly feel insecure because of the "Freedom of Religion Act, commonly referred to as anti-conversion laws" in existence in many states. As for Muslims, it adds, they have been "facing undue scrutiny and arbitrary arrests and detentions, which the government justifies by the need to counter-terrorism", all of which has followed terrorist attacks in 2008 and 2010.
Pointing towards 823 deaths during 2013 because of communal incidents, the report notes, "According to Muslim and Christian NGOs that track communal incidents, 2014 statistics, yet to be released by the Ministry of Home Affairs, will be likely higher." Giving instances of violence against minority groups in Bihar and Gujarat this year, the report points towards how hundreds of Muslims were forcibly “reconverted” to Hinduism in a mass ceremony in Agra.

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