The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has slammed India in its recently released annual report on international religious freedom. The reports notes that attacks on religious minorities and the general state of religious freedom has significantly deteriorated over the past year. This deterioration began when the Hindu nationalist BJP took over India’s central government in a landslide victory in May 2014. Will this report and possible international pressure help reverse this deterioration in religious freedom in India?
4/30/2015 India (Economic Times) – The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has slammed the BJP Government on the ‘Ghar Vapasi’ campaign and the violence against Christians though it said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in mid-February in support of religious freedom was a “positive development”.
n its annual report for 2015 released today, USCIRF said since the 2014 general election in India, religious minority communities have been subject to “derogatory comments by politicians linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)” and “numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups” such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).
“The states of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan tend to have the greatest number of religiously-motivated attacks and communal violence incidents. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and religious leaders, including from the Muslim, Christian, and Sikh communities, attributed the initial increase to religiously-divisive campaigning in advance of the country’s 2014 general election,” USCIRF report said in a chapter on India.
The report said Christian NGOs and leaders report that their community is particularly at risk in states that have adopted anti-conversion laws. “Based on these concerns, USCIRF again places India on its Tier 2 list of countries, where it has been since 2009,” the report says. Religious minority communities frequently accuse the RSS, VHP and other Hindu-nationalist groups and individuals of intolerance, discrimination, and violence against them, the report adds. “Moreover, religious minority communities voice concern that high-ranking BJP members protect or provide support to these groups. In light of these concerns, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in support of religious freedom made in mid-February 2015 was a positive development,” the USCIRF report has said.
USCIRF said Christian communities, across many denominations, report an increase of harassment and violence in the last year, including physical violence, arson, desecration of churches and Bibles, and disruption of religious services. “The perpetrators are often individuals and groups associated with the RSS and VHP and operate with near impunity. Reportedly, local police seldom provide protection, refuse to accept complaints, rarely investigate, and in a few cases encourage Christians to move or hide their religion. The Evangelical Fellowship of India has documented more than 38 incidents targeting Chris- tians in November and December 2014 alone. Catholic communities in India also have documented a number of incidents, including at least six attacks on churches and a school between December 2014 and February 2015,” the USCIRF annual report has further said.
The report has also cited that In December 2014, Hindu nationalist groups announced plans to forcibly “reconvert” at least 4,000 Christian families and 1,000 Muslim families to Hinduism in Uttar Pradesh on Christmas day as part of a so-called “Ghar Wapsi” (returning home) program. “After both domestic and international criticism, the day was postponed according to Mohan Bhagwat, a RSS leader. Hindu nationalist groups also reportedly give monetary incentives to Hindus to convert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. In early December, hundreds of Muslims reportedly were forcibly reconverted to Hinduism in a mass ceremony in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Members of the RSS allegedly tricked dozens of Muslims families into attending a meeting by telling them they would be provided financial help, but instead a Hindu religious leader performed a Hindu conversion ceremony,” the UNCIRF report has said.
The USCIRF has further alleged that anti-conversion laws in some states of India purportedly protect religious minorities from forced conversions but “they are one- sided and only concerned about conversions away from Hinduism but not towards Hinduism”. It also mentions that in 2015, high-ranking members of the ruling BJP party, including the party’s president Amit Shah, called for a nationwide anti-conversion law. It further adds that during his 2015 visit to India and again in February 2015 at the US National Prayer Breakfast, US President Barack Obama made notable remarks on India’s religious freedom issues.