VHP leaders also pointed out that while countries were talking about religious tolerance, there was no mention of attacks on Hindu temples and Gurudwaras, or Sikh temples, in the report. Photo: PTI
New Delhi: Hindu groups, named by a US Congress-established panel for subjecting religious minorities in India to “violent attacks, forced conversions” and the “Ghar Wapsi” campaigns, on Friday slammed the panel’s report, stating it was one-sided and aimed at maligning India.
The report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) made public on Thursday named the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), another affiliate of the RSS.
Representatives of both groups on Friday also urged the US to look inwards at its own record cases of reported discriminations.
“What more can be expected from these countries? They should first introspect because attacks are happening on the basis of colour of the skin and religion in their own country,” said Champak Rai, general secretary of the VHP. He was referring to a series of deaths of black Americans at the hands of white police officers in recent months.
“Just because the Union government has started acting against non-government organizations (NGOs), they want to hit back at India by maligning the image of the country internationally,” said Rai, said referring to the Indian government cancelling the licences of a large number of NGOs that receive foreign funds but have not reportedly filed tax papers.
Last week, the Indian home ministry had put the US-based NGO Ford Foundation on a watch list citing national security concerns.
VHP leaders also pointed out that while countries were talking about religious tolerance, there was no mention of attacks on Hindu temples and Gurudwaras, or Sikh temples, in the report.
The VHP and RSS responses followed the Indian government’s rejection of the report earlier.
‘’Our attention has been drawn to a Report of the USCIRF which has passed judgement on religious freedom in India. It appears to be based on limited understanding of India, its Constitution and its society,” Vikas Swarup, spokesman for the ministry of external affairs, said in a statement. “We take no cognizance of this report.’’
The report states that despite India’s status “as a pluralistic, secular democracy,” India has “long struggled to protect minority religious communities or provide justice when crimes occur” which in turn promotes a “climate of impunity.”
“Religious minority communities frequently accuse the RSS, VHP and other Hindu-nationalist groups and individuals of intolerance, discrimination, and violence against them,” the report said.
It noted that “incidents of religiously-motivated and communal violence reportedly have increased for three consecutive years,” adding that the states of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan tended to have the greatest number of religiously motivated attacks and communal violence incidents.
“Non-governmental organizations and religious leaders, including from the Muslim, Christian, and Sikh communities, attributed the initial increases to religiously-divisive campaigning in advance of the country’s 2014 general election,” it said.
Since the conclusion of the polls that brought Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power, “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 and Vishva Hindu Parishad,” it said.
The report described as a “positive development” Modi’s statements condemning attacks on religious minorities but asked the Barack Obama Administration to press the Indian government to publicly rebuke officials and religious leaders who make derogatory remarks about communities and to boost religious freedom standards in India.
USCIRF said Hindu groups in December 2014 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) programme. “In advance of the programme, the Hindu groups sought to raise money for their campaign, noting that it cost nearly Rs.2 lakh per Christian and Rs.5 lakh per Muslim. After both domestic and international criticism, the day was ‘postponed’ according to Mohan Bhagwat, an RSS leader,” it said.
The report comes at a time when India-US relations are on an upswing following the quick succession of visits by Modi to the US in September and Obama’s to India in January.