US Congress “Condemns” India ‘s Human Rights Abuses
By Vishal Arora, BosNewsLife New Delhi Bureau Chief with Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center
(BosNewsLife) – American lawmakers have condemned the “abuses and humiliation” of India ‘s Dalits and tribal people, including Christians, and said these groups continued “to be victimized under the yoke of a shameful caste system” in the country’s mainly Hindu society, Indian media reported Friday, October 7.
US-based India Abroad newspaper said New Jersey Congressman Christopher Smith, a Republican who chairs the House International Relations Subcommittee on Global Human Rights and International Operations, was among those expressing concern at a hearing on ‘India’s Unfinished Agenda-Equality and Justice for Victims of [the] Caste System’.
Smith reportedly stressed that many Dalits and tribal groups have converted from Hinduism to other faiths to escape “widespread discrimination and achieve high social” status. “However, such converts often lose benefits conferred by the government’s affirmative action programs because these, according to the Constitution, are reserved only for those having scheduled caste status,” he was quoted as saying.
“Converts to Christianity and Christian missionaries are particularly targeted, as violence against Christians often goes unpunished.” Smith added that many states have also adopted anti-conversion laws, in violation of India ‘s constitutional protection for religious freedom.
He suggested this was a major setback as “Christian missionaries have been operating schools and medical clinics for many years in tribal areas and among the very poor, and tribal peoples and Dalits have made great strides as a result.”
India Abroad said he noted that “Hindu extremists resent these [social] gains for disturbing the traditional social order, since better educated Dalits and tribals no longer accept their disadvantaged status as readily as they once did.” Smith stressed he regretted that these problems had been “amply documented” in three current State Department reports — the 2004 Human Rights Report on India, the 2005 Report on Trafficking in Persons, and the 2004 Report on Religious Freedom, the newspaper reported.
Tribals are India’s original and among its most impoverished inhabitants while the term Dalit is used for the so-called “untouchables” of India, who occupy the lowest place in the 3,000 year-old caste system of Hinduism Smith’s comments came after BosNewsLife reported this week that Hindu hardline groups claimed hundreds of Dalit and Tribal Christians had been “converted back to Hinduism” in recent days in India’s states of Orissa and Uttar Pradesh, where churches are being transformed into Hindu temples.
Congressman Smith said poverty has forced Dalit girls to become temple prostitutes and joined “tens of thousands” of tribal women who he claimed “have been forced into situations of economic and sexual exploitation.” He also noted that India leads the world in its tolerance for sex-selection abortions and female infanticide, and claimed that although India forbids both, “there is virtually no enforcement of these laws” especially among Dalits.
He added the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF has warned that unless steps are taken to address the problem, India would soon face unexpected social problems including increased trafficking of women. “As more and more girls are aborted or murdered after birth, larger numbers of women and girls will be trafficked,” he reportedly concluded.
No group falls prey to India ‘s poor human rights record than its Dalits and tribal peoples, Smith said. He told a packed committee room filled with human rights activists and representatives of Dalits from the US and India that in “India’s own version of ‘apartheid'” Dalits are routinely abused at the hands of police and “higher-caste” groups which enjoy the state’s protection.
“For all its success, India carries its social customs like its practice of untouchables, that impede its progress toward a modern India ,” California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the senior Democrat on the Subcommittee reportedly said. She quoted Gandhi as often saying that “it is a crime and a sin to regard a person as an untouchable because he is of a particular community.”
She reportedly quoted India ‘s late leader Mahatma Gandhi as often saying that “it is a crime and a sin to regard a person as an untouchable because he is of a particular community.”