UN Sees Major Challenges to Religious Freedom in India
The All India Christian Council coordinated six meetings with NGOs for Special Rapporteur
3/20/08 NEW DELHI, INDIA (ANS) — Ms. Asma Jahangir, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, announced her initial findings on religious freedom in India at a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday morning, March 20, 2008. The All India Christian Council (AICC) coordinated six meetings between the UN Special Rapporteur and non-governmental groups (NGOs) during her three week visit. AICC leaders presented an analysis of increasing religious discrimination and violent attacks.
Jahangir said in her press conference that communalism seems to be increasing across India in the last decade. She warned that divisions based on religion must be halted now or certain groups may experience oppression. She was hopeful that vigilance by civil society, media, and government authorities will stop the potential disintegration of religious freedom.
Dr. Joseph D’souza, AICC President, said, “We are proud of India. It remains the world’s largest democracy and the only officially secular country among the eight member countries of SAARC. However, there are dark clouds on the horizon because violence against Christians and other minorities is on the rise. Authorities must arrest perpetrators and protect the innocent. Tragically, often perpetrators are protected and the innocent arrested.” SAARC is the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
“The right to embrace any religion and seek the Divine is the most basic of human rights. It must not be hindered. But some radical elements, especially within hardline Hindu nationalist groups, are attacking minorities with impunity. Their spokespeople say that conversions must be stopped at any cost,” said John Dayal, AICC Secretary-General. “For example, during the attacks over this past Christmas in the eastern state of Orissa, about 100 churches and 700 Christian homes were burned. At least four Christians were killed and many injured and abused. Yet the state government banned charitable and religious institutions from giving direct aid to victims and the aggressors still roam freely today.”
The AICC invited Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Buddhists, and other minority leaders to give independent testimony to the Special Rapporteur. Meetings coordinated by AICC were held in: Ahmedabad, Gujarat (March 9); Trivandrum, Kerala (March 14); Bhubaneswar, Orissa (March 15); Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (March 17); and New Delhi (March 5 and 19). In Lucknow and Bhubaneswar, Christian and Muslim victims recounted attacks. The AICC recorded an anti-Christian attack every three days, on average, in 2007.
“We applaud the Indian government for graciously hosting the UN Special Rapporteur. She reportedly met the Chief Ministers of every state she visited as well as minorities and human rights bodies. We are hopeful the government will heed Ms. Jahangir’s wise recommendations on how to protect the religious freedom of all Indian citizens,” said Dr. Sam Paul, AICC National Secretary of Public Affairs.
The last visit to India by a UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief was in 1996. Since then, India’s citizens experienced: riots targeting Muslims (Gujarat 2002); continued legal discrimination against Dalits if they are not Hindu, Buddhist, or Sikh; the passage of anti-conversion laws in four states and amendments in two other states; two major outbreaks of violence against Christians during Christmas celebrations (Dangs District, Gujarat, 1998, and Kandhamal District, Orissa, 2007); and increasing attacks on Christian clergy and places of worship. In most cases, attackers were Hindutva activists.
Ms. Asma Jahangir and her Geneva-based assistant, Mr. Michael Wiener, visited eight states and numerous cities in India since arriving on March 2, 2008. She is a respected human rights activist from Pakistan and has held several positions with the United Nations. Jahangir was appointed as Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2004. Her job is to “identify existing and emerging obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief and present recommendations on ways and means to overcome such obstacles.” In about three months, she will present the final India country report to various UN human rights bodies and the UN General Assembly. The last India country report was released in February 1997. See: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/religion/index.htm.
The All India Christian Council (www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The AICC is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.