Expressing deep concern over growing attacks on religious minorities by Hindutva outfits in India, religious freedom activists based in the US criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his failure to stop the violence.
Participating in a recent event titled “Religious Freedom in India: A Briefing on Capitol Hill”, organised by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) on the Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the activists urged Modi to condemn such violence against religious minorities as well as take all necessary measures to curb the rise of Hindutva extremism and punish the Hindutva groups involved in violence. IAMC is the largest advocacy organisation of Indian Muslims in the US.
In a statement, Katrina Lantos Swett, former Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent bipartisan federal commission tasked with defending religious freedom outside the U.S, said, “Inflammatory rhetoric and a conception of India’s national identity increasingly based on religion have contributed to an atmosphere of intimidation, exclusion, and even violence directed at non-Hindus.
Lantos Swett, who is the daughter Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to have ever been elected to U.S. Congress and who founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, said “We see it in the lack of accountability for large-scale communal violence such as the horrors we know took place in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, and in the more individualised crimes committed against members of minorities faiths,” she said at a briefing held in a Senate Building before an audience that also included Congressional staffs, officials from the Department of State and USCIRF, and civil society members.
Matthew Bulger, Legislative Director of the American Humanist Association, a U.S. organisation promoting theism and agnosticism since 1941, said that compared with global religious freedom standards, “India is failing”.
In a press release issued by IAMC, Bulger said section 295A of the Indian Penal Code was “relic” of British colonial law and “essentially a blasphemy and anti-religious incitement law “inconsistent with the pluralistic and democratic values India publicly accepts. Laws which restrict religious freedom can serve as a catalyst for vigilante violence, such as that seen in India recently regarding the lynchings by Hindu nationalists of people, most often Muslims, suspected of smuggling or killing cows.” He noted that although Pehlu Khan, a Muslim dairy farmer murdered by cow vigilantes in April 2017, named six suspects in his “death-bed statement”, criminal charges against them were dismissed. “Sadly, this is not an isolated case, as over a dozen similar murders have happened in the last two years alone.”
The event also noted the “worsening” situation of Dalit in India. Rev. Sarah C. Anderson-Rajarigam, a Dalit Christian Lutheran church priest from Philadelphia, said “Modi’s government has deliberately and openly made violence against Dalits a non-issue by offering impunity.” Pawan Singh, a Sikh representing the Organisation for Minorities of India, said “pseudo institutions” connected with the “fascist ideology” of the Rashtriya Swayamasevak Sangh, such as the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the Bajrang Dal and the Hindu American Foundation “were a threat to our freedom”.
Sunita Viswanath, co-founder of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, a New York-based non-profit, said the “chilling repression of open debate and political expression” in India and the violence against Muslims and Christians was alarming.
Viswanath noted that the police had named the Sanatan Sanstha, an extremist Right-wing Hindutva organisation, for the September 2017 killing of Gauri Lankesh, a Bangalore-based activist and journalist. “The Sanatan Sanstha was also involved in the killing of other activists,” she said. “Despite this, it has not yet been banned or classified as a terrorist organisation,” she was quoted as saying in the IAMC press release.