|A February 9 USCIRF seminar on religious freedom|
US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has asked newly-appointed President Donald Trump to put “religious freedom and human rights at the heart of all trade, aid, and diplomatic interactions with India” and urge the Government of India "to push Indian states that have adopted anti-conversion laws to repeal or amend them to conform to international norms.”
An independent, bipartisan US federal government commission, in its latest recommendations, which have also been been sent to the US Secretary of State, and the Congress, USCIRF, referring to the clampdown on NGOs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 1976, has sought their intervention to “urge the Indian government to immediately lift its sanctions against NGOs working for the welfare of the minorities in India.”
In an unusually sharp critique of the BJP-led NDA government, the USCIRF wants the US administration to identify and act against "Hindutva groups that raise funds from US citizens and support hate campaigns in India”, adding, “Such groups should be banned from operating in the US if they are found to spread hatred against religious minorities in India.”
Referring to the March 2016 amendment to the FCRA, introduced “to legalize funding by foreign entities to political parties”, the USCIRF states, “The amendment enables foreign Hindu organizations to send money to India-based radical Hindu organizations”.
It insists, these radical groups “have been seeking funds for the controversial Ghar Wapsi campaign ”, launched by Hindutva groups to aggressively oppose the right to convert to religions like Islam and Christianity.
Especially citing a report prepared by US-based South Asia Citizens Web (SACW), “Hindu Nationalism in the United States”, USCIRF says, the report refers “policies and actions of Hindu radical groups in the US, and covers tax records, newspaper articles, and other sources on the NGOs in the US affiliated with the Sangh Parivar ... and BJP.”
USCIRF approvingly quotes the SACW report as saying, “India-based Sangh affiliates receive social and financial support from its US-based wings, the latter of which exist largely as tax-exempt non-profit organizations in the US.”
SAWC, says USCIRF, identifies US-based organizations which carry out these activities. These are “Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, Sewa International USA, Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation-USA, and the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party-USA.”
USCIRF regrets, “While the Indian government continues to use the FCRA to limit foreign funding for some NGOs, Hindutva supporter organizations have never come under the scrutiny of the FCRA”, adding, “With the new amendment to the FCRA, these foreign-based radical Hindu organizations will be able to send funds to India, without restriction, to support hate campaigns.”
At the same time, the report states, the FCRA is being used against organizations which take up human rights of minorities, pointing to how the Modi government has been blocking funds “to hamper the activities of NGOs that question or condemn the government or its policies”.
With a special reference, in this context, to the clampdown on human rights activist Teesta Setalvad for “violating” FCRA, the report praises her for “campaigning to seek criminal charges against Indian officials, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for their alleged involvement in the anti-Muslim riots.”