Broad panel of experts at a virtual Congressional briefing urged their grassroots organizers to reach out to their elected representatives to press the US government to accept and implement the policy recommendations of USCIRF to categorize India as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) and to impose sanctions against Indian officials for “engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations.”
The briefing was co-sponsored by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos and “Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR)” and “International Christian Concern (ICC). Titled as “USCIRF Recommendations on India – The Next Steps”, the briefing was organized with the intent to analyze the recommendations made by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission that reviews religious freedom violations and makes policy recommendations to the US President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.
India “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)”
USCIRF has decided to list India as a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)” under the International Religious Freedom Act in its 2020 Annual Report.
Chaired by IAMC, the briefing included several USCIRF Commissioners as the main speakers along with representatives from Amnesty International, IAMC, HfHR, and ICC. The briefing was attended by representatives of prominent human rights organizations, activists, representatives from congressional offices, and people from all walks of life that are concerned about the rapidly escalating violence against religious minorities in India.
Violence against Muslims
The briefing noted that the erosion of religious freedom is apparent in the abrogation of Article 370 and the horrific violations of human rights in Kashmir, a brutal clampdown on peaceful civil dissent against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the recent Delhi pogrom, among several other egregious instances of religious persecution.
Panelist bemoans #CoronaJihad
Delivering the keynote address, Ms. Nadine Maenza, Vice-Chair of USCIRF assessed the existential crisis facing India’s democratic polity. Specifically bemoaning the “#CoronaJihad” social media campaign intended to scapegoat Muslims as responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms. Maenza noted with alarm, the social and economic boycott of Muslims in some parts of the country as well as discrimination against Muslims in the context of medical treatment during the global pandemic.
BJP members slammed
Recognizing India as an ally of the United States, Dr. Harrison Akins, South Asia policy analyst with USCIRF, observed that “members of the ruling BJP have used the symbols of Hinduism and policies aimed at their protection as weapons against minority communities in their quest to further marginalize religious minorities and shape a Hindu nation.” “Combined with the BJP’s inflammatory rhetoric, these coordinated actions strengthen the perception that minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, are outsiders with no legitimate place in Indian history or society and, by their mere presence, a potential threat from within to the project of making India a Hindu nation,” he added.
Arrest of Safoora Zargar deplored
Sharing concerns expressed by other panelists and highlighted the issue of activists imprisoned for peaceful dissent, Mr. Francisco Bencosme, Asia Pacific Advocacy Manager of Amnesty International USA, made a special note of Ms. Safoora Zargar, a pregnant student jailed for speaking up against the draconian citizenship law recently enacted in India, and only recently released on bail. “While the world faces a global pandemic, India has decided that now is the time to attack religious freedom,” he lamented.
Sinister design of CAA-NRC-NPR
Mr. Aman Wadud, an attorney at the Gauhati High court in India referred to the sinister design of the CAA-NRC-NPR while emphasizing that the “right to a nationality is a basic human right which is fundamental to all accompanying political and civil rights.” He added, “Denying individuals of fundamental recognition not only deprives them of their rights but also denies them the ability to participate in the political process and legalizes systematic discrimination and persecution.”
UAPA, a draconian law
Elaborating the rampant misuse of a draconian anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), under which the Indian government could designate any individual as a “terrorist” on mere suspicion, the attorney observed that the law was being used against students and journalists speaks volumes about the administration’s overt alignment with fascism.
Persecution, vigilantism, Hindutva, Hindu radicalism
Mr. Jeff King, President of International Christian Concern (ICC) stated, “Persecution, vigilantism, Hindutva and Hindu radicalism and the oppression of Christians is what characterizes India now.”
Difference between Hinduism & Hindutva
Distinguishing between Hinduism and Hindutva, Mr. Raju Rajgopal, co-founder of Hindus For Human Rights, explained that the true concept of “Hindu Rashtra,” as Mr. Rajgopal expounded, is actually one of inclusiveness and tolerance, while the “Hindutva Rashtra” that the RSS and its affiliates are clearly striving for, is violent, authoritarian and intolerant.
Anti-religious conversion laws
Speaking about anti-religious conversion laws in India which prohibit conversions of Indian Hindus to Christianity or Islam, Mr. Sean Nelson, Legal Counsel for Global Religious Freedom with ADF International expressed his concern about the violence faced by converts who also face 3 to 7 years of imprisonment for their voluntary religious conversion.
Panelists reiterate their commitment
During the briefing which lasted for about 90 minutes, the panelists reiterated their commitment to petition the US government and lawmakers to foreground human rights, civil liberties, and religious freedom in US-India bilateral relations and dialogue.