US Congressional Hearing highlights plight of minorities in India

Broad range of experts call for inclusion of human rights and religious freedom in the US-India Strategic Dialogue.

April 4th 2014: Coalition Against Genocide (CAG – http://coalitionagainstgenocide.org/), a broad alliance dedicated to justice and accountability for the Gujarat pogroms of 2002, today welcomed the congressional hearing on the subject of minorities and religious freedom in India.
The hearing was organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on April 4, 2014. The congressional panel was presided by Rep. Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania, an ardent champion of human rights and religious freedom. Rep. Keith Ellison – co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Rep. Trent Franks – co-chair of the International Religious Freedom Congressional Caucus, were also part of the panel for the hearing. The commission sought to examine the implications of the politicization of religious identities and increase in violence against religious minorities in India in the context of US-India relationship.

Several witnesses were invited to appear and present their observations and information on the subject matter. Among those that testified include Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett – Vice Chair of United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Dr. John Dayal – Secretary General of the All-India Christian Council and a prominent member of India’s National Integration Council, Robin Phillips – Executive Director with The Advocates for Human Rights and John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch.

Alex Koshy, a spokesperson for the coalition, welcomed the hearing and its potential for positive impact in the lives of religious minorities in India. “In light of H. Res. 417, the request to incorporate human rights into the strategic dialogue framework provides a way to address the increasing difficulties bilaterally,” he said. “Often, issues of religious freedom are given a short shrift in the bilateral talks or eliminated altogether. Including it will allow for healthy dialogue instead of criticisms on the issue.”, he added.

In a written deposition, Dr. Dayal highlighted the plight of religious minorities, especially Christians and Muslims, due to the growing intolerance and polarization, repeated instances of mass violence and impunity for the perpetrators, a sluggish and compromised judiciary, and enactment of draconian laws whose implementation is repressive towards religious minorities. In his oral testimony, Dr. Dayal observed that multiple states have enacted laws that curtail religious freedom, while the votaries of the supremacist Hindutva ideology have openly called for the enactment of a national law with similar scope. He urged the United States and the international community to play a role in safeguarding India’s pluralism, and called on the US government to incorporate human rights and religious freedom in the US-India Strategic Dialogue framework.

Robin Phillips’s written submission brought out the entire gamut of issues faced by religious minorities, including the impunity and even support enjoyed by those accused of fomenting violence and enmity. She cited the analysis of Pew Research Center in which India was among the worst performers in terms of government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion. Her testimony also underscored the apathy, indifference and lack of will of the local governments and judiciary in providing timely relief and remedy to the victims. John Sifton cited instances underscoring the ineffective remedial conditions for victims of communal riots and targeted attacks.

Dr. Shaik Ubaid, one of the co-founders of the coalition remarked, “Despite being a functioning democracy since its independence more than 60 years ago, Indian law enforcement and judiciary are lacking in both the will and capacity to tackle the menace of human rights violations by Hindutva organizations. We thank Congressmen Pitts, Ellison, Wolf, Franks and McGovern for spearheading this hearing and highlighting the increasing number of problems faced by religious minorities in India in their free exercise of constitutional rights.” He also criticised Hindu American Foundation (HAF) saying, “They pretend to be an interfaith and human rights organization but came out opposing the hearing on religious freedom and justifying anti-conversion laws. Such duplicity is the hallmark of the Hindutva ideology.”

The hearing was attended by a packed audience and several lawmakers participated in the course of the proceedings. There were several pointed questions from the panel and the members of the committee were surprised at the number and range of the issues faced by religious minorities.

Coalition members expressed hope that increased attention to the issue of religious freedom will bring about positive changes from the government to the needs of those that are vulnerable and affected.

CAG is a group of over 40 organizations, representing a diverse cross section of the religious and political spectrum of the Indian diaspora, including Hindu and other faith-based organizations. The coalition is committed to democracy, pluralism and to the preservation of the idea of India.

CONTACT:

1. Dr. Shaik Ubaid
Phone: (516) 567-0783

2. Mr. Raja Swamy
Phone: (864) 804-0216

Coalition Against Genocide
Phone/Fax: (443) 927-9039
Email: media@coalitionagainstgenocide.org
http://www.coalitionagainstgenocide.org

REFERENCES:

TLHRC Hearing: The Plight of Religious Minorities in India
HEARING WEBSITE: http://tlhrc.house.gov/hearing_notice.asp?id=1259
RECORDING: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/45757005

Testimony of John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch
http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/04/plight-religious-minorities-india

Testimony of Katrina Lantos Swett, Vice Chair, USCIRF
http://uscirf.newtarget.net/sites/default/files/India%20testimony%20TLHRC%20%20April%202014%20FINAL.pdf

The Advocates’ Robin Phillips Testifies before Congressional Committee
http://theadvocatespost.org/2014/04/04/impunity-emboldening-forces-of-religious-intolerance-in-india/

H.Res 417 — Praising India’s rich religious diversity and commitment to tolerance and equality, and reaffirming the need to protect the rights and freedoms of religious minorities.
http://pitts.house.gov/sites/pitts.house.gov/files/documents/PittsEllison-IndiaReligiousFreedom.pdf

Pew Report on Restrictions on Religion – Social Hostilities reach a six year high
http://www.pewforum.org/2014/01/14/religious-hostilities-reach-six-year-high/#interactive

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