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US report: "Nonsensical" to deem Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains to be Hindus, minorities' plight worsens under BJP

By Our Representative
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), operating under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, has asked the Government of India “to amend its nonsensical constitutional provision that deems Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains to be Hindus.” The report underlines, “These three faiths have their own distinctive founders, religious histories, and practices followed by millions of people in India and abroad.”
In a report released recently, USCIRF, which is appointed by the US President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives, says, “Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, other minority communities, and Hindu Dalits recognize that religious freedom issues in India predate the current BJP-led government”.
However, it adds, “They attribute the deterioration in conditions since 2014 to the BJP’s Hindu nationalistic political platform and some of its members’ support of and/or membership in Hindu nationalist groups.”
“Hindu nationalists often harass Sikhs and pressure them to reject religious practices and beliefs that are distinct to Sikhism, such as wearing Sikh dress and unshorn hair and carrying mandatory religious items, including the kirpan, which is a right protected by the Indian constitution”, the report says.
Yet, it regrets, “Article 25 of the Indian constitution deems Sikhs to be Hindus. This creates an environment in which Hindu nationalists view Sikhs as having rejected Hinduism and as being enemies of India because some Sikhs support the Khalistan political movement, which seeks to create a new state in India for Sikhs and full legal recognition of Sikhism as an independent faith.”
Pointing towards how Sikhs are neglected, the report states, “In February 2015, the Indian government formed a new Special Investigation Team (SIT) to review several incidents that occurred during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, but the SIT reportedly has neither released any reports on their investigations nor filed any new cases.”
Sikhs form 1.7 percent of India’s population, Buddhists and Jains less than 1 percent and about 1 percent adhere to other faiths or profess no religion.
The report says, “India must effectively address problematic religious conditions including outbreaks of communal violence due to interfaith conflicts and politics”, the report says, blaming for this “BJP in collaboration with RSS, RSS, Sangh Parivar, and VHP on the ideology of Hindutva (‘Hinduness’), which seeks to make India a Hindu state based on Hinduism and Hindu values.”
“Some individuals and groups adhering to this ideology are known to use violence, discriminatory acts, and religiously motivated rhetoric against religious minorities, creating a climate of fear and making non-Hindus feel unwelcome in the country”, the report says.
The US concern about Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains comes alongside what the report calls, “heightened enforcement against religious minorities by BJP government officials and/or Hindu nationalists of existing constitutional and legal provisions restricting religious conversion, cow slaughter, and foreign funding of NGOs.”
Disputing the governmental National Commission for Minorities, which said it received 1,288 complaints from minorities regarding discrimination, down from nearly 2,000 in 2015”, the report says, “Religious minority communities, especially Christians and Muslims, reported to USCIRF that incidents had increased but minorities were afraid or believed it to be pointless to report them.”

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