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Iqtidar Karamat cheema (Dr)
United States Congress briefing on violence against religious minorities in India
United States Congress briefing on violence against religious minorities in India
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United States Congress briefing on violence against religious minorities in India
Dr Iqtidar Karamat cheema
I had an opportunity to act as a witness to United States Congress at its briefing on Violence against religious Minorities in India. The congressional briefing was jointly organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and American Sikh Congressional Caucus. The briefing was attended by various congressmen, congressional staff, officials of the State department, White House staffers, Human right activists and a number of third sector organizations. The testimonies of the expert panel including my own testimony can be downloaded from the website of Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
   In his opening remarks, Congressman Patrick Meehan, Co-Chair of the American Sikh Congressional Caucus, alleged that "violence" against religious minorities has increased in India in recent months, calling it an issue of serious concern. He also appreciated President Obama for voicing the issues of religious freedom in India. John Sifton, Advocacy Director of Human Rights watch briefed that how Under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) of 1976, the Modi Government has banned various Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), working for the welfare of the minorities in India.
   Sahar Chaudhry, Senior Policy Director, United States Commission on International religious Freedom (USCRIF) appraised the attendees that India does not allow the USCRIF staff to visit India. She made a reference to 2015 Annual report of USCRIF about the state of religious Freedom in India. Her five page testimony listed India along with 30 other countries as having “a systematic, ongoing and egregious” standard for failing to protect religious freedoms. She also cited that Muslim, Christian and Sikh communities across India are experiencing increased harassment and violence from the extremists and hate mongers who are associated with RSS and VHP. The perpetrators often engage in physical violence, arson, desecration of religious places and disruption of religious services. ‘Local police seldom provide protection, refuse to accept complaints, rarely investigate, and in a few cases encouraged Christians to move or hide their religion’. She urged that issues of religious freedom must become a part of the US-India dialogue.
   My witness and testimony was related to a major issue that how Indian constitution provides only a limited safeguards to the minority communities. I clarified that article 25 of Indian Constitution which is praised by President Obama is a controversial article as its clause 2 sub clause B curtails the religious identity of Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists of India by not recognizing them as separate religious entity and treating them as Hindus. I also highlighted the so called “Ghar Wapsi’ program by Hindu Nationalist groups: a plan to forcibly “reconvert” at least 4000 Christian families and 1000 Muslim families to Hinduism. I also mentioned how the anti-conversion laws introduced as the Freedom of Religion Acts, have resulted in inequitable practices against minorities. Dalits who constitute 16% of India’s population are suffering an inhuman treatment at the hands of upper-caste Hindus.
    While making a reference to California State Assembly resolution on Sikh Genocide, I briefed the attendees how  31 years ago, amid the month of November, Sikhs were burnt alive, Sikh ladies got raped, Sikh business and properties flared to cinders in the towns and streets of world’s largest democracy (India). I also mentioned that a 82 year old American resident from California Bapu Surat Singh is on hunger strike since January 16th, 2015. He wants the government of India to release the Sikh prisoners who are still in jail despite of completing their respective sentences.
     There was also an analysis in my testimony that how India ignore some of the major instruments of International laws related to Human rights as India has submitted its reservation on Genocide Convention 1948, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 1965, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 1977, Convention Against the Taking of Hostages 1979, Convention on the Rights of the Child 1990.
   Dr Joshva Raja in his testimony, alleged that Christians in India today are targeted and attacked by few Hindutva forces and are being supported by the BJP government in India. He claimed that in one year of the Modi government, as many as 192 attacks on Christians and Christian institutions and churches have occurred, which is an increase of 75 per cent compared to the previous year. He urged the US government to impress upon the Indian government to lift a ban on Christian teachers and theologians from overseas to teach and engage with students in India.
        Professor Gurdarshan Singh Dhillon, a retired professor of history from Punjab University, India said that, ‘Ever since BJP has come at the helm of affairs, with Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister, Hindutva forces are becoming more and more vocal with assertive notions of their strength. He opined that rise of communal politics among the majority community is bound to lead to counter – mobilization among other communities, prompting them to move, discuss, debate and decide for themselves the new course of political action which would enable them to resist the communal agenda of the majority community’.
   Panelist including myself, Dr. Raja and Dr. Dhillon made following joint recommendations to U.S. Congress:
 1-       United States should conduct a complete review of its foreign policy towards India and put religious freedom and human rights at the heart of all trade, aid and diplomatic interactions with India.
  2-       United States should not support India’s permanent membership to United Nations’ Security Council till India signs the 1977 Additional Protocols of Geneva Convention 1948 and withdraws its reservations on Genocide Convention 1948, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 1965, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 1977, Convention Against the Taking of Hostages 1979, Convention on the Rights of the Child 1990.
3-       United States should publicly condemn the controversial Ghar Wapsi (homecoming, or mass-reconversion) programme and the ‘Hindutva’ movement that seeks to threaten, intimidate and marginalize religious minorities in India.
4-       United States should urge that those who committed Sikh Genocide in 1984 and Muslim Genocide in 2002 should be tried in the International Criminal Tribunal.
5-       United States should urge Indian Government to immediately lift its sanctions against Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), working for the welfare of the minorities in India.
6-       United States should identify Hindutva groups that raise funds from American citizens and support the hate campaigns in India. Such groups should be banned from operating in the United States if they are found to spread hatred against religious minorities in India.

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