Skip to main content

Religious freedom? US seeks to 'nail' India on anti-conversion, foreign funding laws

Pompeo with S Jaishankar, India's foreign minister 
Counterview Desk
Is the United States all set to make the alleged lack of religious freedom in India a major plank during future negotiations? Not only has US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touched upon this  during his recent visit to New Delhi, insisting upon the need to "speak out strongly" in favour religious freedom. 
Two recent US government-sponsored reports have taken strong exception to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and state-level anti-conversion laws being misused to "undermine" religious freedom.
Released last week by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), its annual report for 2019 wants the Donald Trump administration to impress upon India to "ensure" that the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) and state-level anti-conversion laws are "not used discriminatorily to target international missionary and human rights groups."
Earlier, in November 2018, another report by USCIRF, "Limitations on Minorities’ Religious Freedom in South Asia", asked the US Embassy in New Delhi to "expand its efforts to raise the issue of anti-conversion laws, which are proliferating across the country and exacerbating the deteriorating nature of religious freedom", underlining that it should work for "repealing state-level anti-conversion laws". 

Excerpts from the Annual Report:

In India, state level anti-conversion laws prohibit conversion based on force, allurement, inducement, or fraud; however, some contain such broad definitions that they can be inter- preted as prohibiting any kind of conversion, whether consensual or not.
Anti-conversion laws have gone into effect in seven states: Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Jharkhand. In some states, anyone engaged in conversion must register with local government authorities.
In 2018, anti-conversion laws were enforced pre- dominantly against Muslims and Christians engaged in proselytization and also limited the freedom of religion or belief of others to discuss, consider, and ultimately convert to other religions.
Also, religious minority leaders and adherents faced intimidation and arrest under the guise of anti-conversion laws. For example, in May 2018, authorities arrested 11 people for conducting a group prayer in a home in Jharkhand, and four others were arrested nearby after locals complained about the group conducting a Christian marriage ceremony.
Two months later in the same state, 25 Christians were arrested due to accusations of induced conversion after they conducted a group prayer at the home of a Christian. While nine were released, the remaining members of the group were charged under Jharkhand’s anti-conversion law and remanded to judicial custody while their charges were prosecuted; these cases were ongoing at the end of the reporting period.
In 2018, the media dedicated significant coverage to inflammatory allegations of an organized campaign to coerce Hindu women to marry Muslim men and convert to Islam. In March 2018, the Supreme Court of India set aside a 2017 decision by the High Court of Kerala that had annulled the marriage of a woman by the name of Hadiya; originally from a Hindu family, Hadiya converted to Islam and married a Muslim man in 2016.
The Kerala High Court determined that she had been subject to an organized coercion campaign. The Supreme Court reversed and upheld the marriage after being satisfied that she had freely granted consent.
The Hadiya case prompted the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s national counterterrorism investigative agency, to launch an investigation into the existence of a coordinated campaign to force women to convert and marry. In October 2018, the NIA concluded, after numerous investigations, that there was no evidence of such a campaign.
Some Hindutva groups have sought to convert those born Hindu who had converted to another faith back to Hinduism through “homecoming” conversion ceremonies (ghar wapsi). In some cases, these conversion ceremonies reportedly involve force or coercion.
There continued to be reports of such ceremonies in 2018, although their number and nature were impossible to confirm. For example, in April 2018, a Hindutva group was alleged to have physically assaulted a Dalit man in Uttar Pradesh who had recently converted from Hinduism to Islam and, according to reports, forced him to undertake ghar wapsi to convert back to Hinduism.
... Hate crimes and incitement to violence directed at religious minority communities remained a prevalent threat in 2018. As one example of the communal violence towards Muslims, in April 2018, during an annual Hindu festival in West Bengal, Hindutva extremists taunted Muslims and used anti-Muslim rhetoric. At least four people died during the ensuing communal clashes.
Christians have reported threats to their safety over the past year, as well as increased discrimination and unfair treatment directly related to their religious identity. Various research groups affiliated with Christian churches found an increase in hate speech and hate crimes against Christians across the country, especially in northeastern states, where the Christian community has grown in recent decades.
Throughout August and September 2018, authorities arrested several Christian pastors in Uttar Pradesh, some during church services and prayer meetings, while mobs attacked and threatened others. Some of the pastors arrested were accused of alleged conversions.
In one set of simultaneous attacks in October 2018, Hindutva extremists issued threats against four churches in the state of Tamil Nadu. Church worshipers were subject to public hate speech, attacks on their church structures, and threats issued to the church’s leadership. In December 2018, a mob attacked a small community church in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, leaving many injured just before Christmas.
... Several international groups -- some with missionary and human rights portfolios -- have been prohibited from operating in India since the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) of 1976 was updated in 2010. Under the revision to the law, the government can shut down any internationally funded NGO engaged in “any activities detrimental to the national interest.” 
The government has also used this provision to shut down thousands of international NGOs since 2014; some reports estimate that 20,000 NGOs have been denied licenses to operate or continue operations. 
The process by which NGOs have to apply for certification lacks transparency, and NGOs who have been denied operational licenses often cannot obtain explanations for the denial. The NGOs were often targeted for political reasons, however, non-Hindu religious organizations were also targeted.
In November 2018, the Indian government demanded that 1,775 organizations provide further explanation for their failure to submit use of foreign funds over the last six years; these organizations included many non-Hindu religious groups, some Hindu trusts managing major temples, and secular human rights groups.
Some among the Hindu population -- including some Hindutva extremists -- perceive Christian missionaries converting Dalits to be particularly threatening, as there are nearly 200 million Dalits in India.
Many observers assert that it was this fear of mass conversion that led to the 2017 shutdown of Compassion International, a US-based Christian charity, which provided services to nearly 150,000 Indian children. Compassion International hopes to reopen operations in India in the future, though this may prove difficult considering the way the FCRA has been applied against Christian groups.

Excerpts from the Nov 2018 report:

Accusations, especially from Hindutva supremacist groups, of induced or fraudulent conversions are rising in India. Further, political leaders belonging to parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have accused certain international faith-based NGOs of conditioning the distribution of aid on the conversion of the recipient. Yet, governmental agencies have not reported the exact number and nature of so-called “unethical” conversions.
While Amit Shah, the party-president of the BJP, has argued in favour of national laws criminalizing conversions away from Hinduism, the right to pass such laws remains constitutionally vested in the states under India’s federal constitutional system. Based on this division of power, several state legislatures have passed anti-conversion laws, with Odisha’s and Madhya Pradesh’s laws dating back to the 1960s.
The second wave of anti-conversion laws, entitled “Freedom of Religion” laws, came in the 2000s, with states including Himachal Pradesh, Gujrat, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu adopting them. Since then, the state of Jharkhand adopted an anti-conversion law in 2017 and Uttarkhand’s legislature is considering the adoption of a similar law in 2018.
The details of these laws differ, but they all share some general shortcomings:
  • First, the definitions of “induced,” “fraudulent,” or “coerced” are expansive to the point that they could be interpreted to prohibit any kind of conversion, whether consensual or not. 
  • Second, the passage of these laws appears to have produced both rising levels of hate crimes against alleged proselytizers and their faith-based communities and false accusations of induced or fraudulent conversion against Christians and Muslims. 
  • Third, most of the laws do not focus on rectifying the harm done to the victim of an alleged induced or fraudulent conversion, and allow almost anyone to bring a criminal complaint against a member of a religious-minority community. 
  • Lastly, the implementation and enforcement of these laws has been discriminatorily geared toward punishing non-Hindus. 
Outside of anti-conversion laws, other legal provisions have also been used to discourage members of the Dalit community from converting away from Hindu- ism. For example, Dalit rights groups have reported that the afrmative action benefts guaranteed to Dalits through the constitution and other laws are no longer practically accessible after a Dalit converts to a non- Hindu religion like Christianity or Islam.
... Parliament passed the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) in 2010 and the BJP-led administration amended the rules in 2015. Since then, reports indicate that thousands of NGO licenses have been canceled in the country. The UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression, freedom of association, and human rights defenders have all stated that the FCRA is being used to attack groups that are challenging the ruling admin- istration’s performance on human rights.
In relation to faith-based NGOs, several have reported facing complications and limits on their foreign funding due to FCRA enforcement. Compassion International, a Christian INGO that reportedly served nearly 145,000 children with 500 projects in India over nearly 50 years, closed its operations in 2017 after the government blocked its foreign funding.
... In India, the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi should expand its eforts to raise the issue of anti-conversion laws, which are proliferating across the country and exacerbating the deteriorating nature of religious freedom. The US Embassy should continue its concerted effort to meet with religious minority groups to gather information on the nature of persecution faced by non-Hindu groups under the anti-conversion laws.
The U.S. Embassy should also expand contacts with parliamentarians at the state level where anti-conversion laws are enforced. Further, the US Embassy in New Delhi should engage with the relevant government min- istries in order to address methods of:
  1. Repealing state-level anti-conversion laws or reforming them to narrowly defne fraud, coercion, and inducement;
  2. Deterring false accusations of unethical conversion;
  3. Limiting discriminatory enforcement of anti-conversion laws; and
  4. Permitting Dalits who change faiths to continue benefiting from affirmative action pro- grams when they continue to face socio-economic discrimination despite converting.

Comments

TRENDING

Ganga world's second most polluted river, Modi's Varanasi tops microplastics pollution

By Rajiv Shah  Will the new report by well-known elite NGO Toxics Link create a ripple in the powerful corridors of Delhi? Titled “Quantitative analysis of microplastics along River Ganga”, forwarded to Counterview, doesn’t just say that Ganga is the second most polluted river in the world, next only to Yangtze (China). It goes ahead to do a comparison of microplastics pollution in three cities shows Varanasi – the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi – is more polluted compared to Kanpur and Haridwar.

Did Modi promote Dholavira, a UNESCO site now, as Gujarat CM? Facts don't tally

By Rajiv Shah  As would generally happen, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tweet – that not only was he “absolutely delighted” with the news of UNESCO tag to Dholavira, but he “ first visited ” the site during his “student days and was mesmerised by the place” – is being doubted by his detractors. None of the two tweets, strangely, even recalls once that it’s a Harappan site in Gujarat.

How real is Mamata challenge to Modi? Preparing for 2024 'khela hobey' moment

By Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury*  Third time elected West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee is on a whirlwind tour of Delhi, meeting everyone who matters within and beyond the government, the Prime Minister, the President, some Cabinet ministers, Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, several other opposition leaders, et al.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Giant conglomerates 'favoured': Whither tribal rights for jal-jungle-jameen?

Prafull Samantara By Mohammad Irshad Ansari*  The struggle for “Jal, Jungle and Jameen” has been a long-drawn battle for the tribal communities of India. This tussle was once again in the limelight with the proposed diamond mining in the Buxwaha forest of Chhatarpur (Madhya Pradesh). The only difference in this movement was the massive social media support it gained, which actually seems to tilt the scale for the tribal people in a long time.

If not Modi, then who? Why? I (an ordinary citizen) am there! Main hoon naa!

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  The number of women ministers is doubled in early July from the first term after cabinet reshuffle by the present government led by Narendra Modi. While there were 06 women ministers in the previous term, this term there are 11. The previous two governments led by Dr Manmohan Singh had 10 women ministers in each tenure. Are these number of women ministers something to rejoice in the near 75 years of independence? Yes maybe, if we think that things are slowly improving in the patriarchal system. This change is less likely to achieve gender balance in the parliament otherwise we require more than 11 as per the 33% reservation . This change is also less likely because the men politicians’ inability to handle the country’s mess is becoming more and more evident and especially during the corona crisis. Seems, the addition of more women ministers may be a result of the recent assembly elections where women played a decisive role in the election results. For example

UP arrest of 'terrorists': Diverting attention from Covid goof-up, Ram temple land scam?

By Advocate Mohammad Shoaib, Sandeep Pandey* That corruption is rampant in police department is a common experience. However, there is another form of corruption which devastates lives of individuals and their families. It has now emerged as a common phenomenon that police more often than not register false cases because of which individuals have to spend number of years in jail.

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Effluent discharge into deep sea? Modi told to 'reconsider' Rs 2275 crore Gujarat project

Counterview Desk  In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, well-known Gujarat-based environmentalist, Mahesh Pandya of the Paryavaran Mitra, has protested against the manner in with the Gujarat government is continuing with its deep sea effluent disposal project despite environmental concerns.

Khorigaon demolition: People being 'brutally' evicted, cops 'restricting' food, water

By Ishita Chatterjee, Neelesh Kumar, Manju Menon, Vimal Bhai* On July 23, the Faridabad Municipal Corporation told the Supreme Court that they have cleared 74 acres out of 150 acres. Despite the affidavit of the Municipal Corporation, the court, on the complaint of various litigants, that the arrangements for living, food etc. have not been made for the people.