WASHINGTON — The Indian American Muslim Council, an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos has called President Obama’s expressions of concern over religious intolerance in India as justified, given the alarming escalation of violence and rhetoric against minorities.
Besides the President’s statements, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom has highlighted the rapidly constricted landscape for religious freedom in India in a press release earlier this week. US expressions of concern come in the wake of forced conversions of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, the demonization of minorities and the glorification of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin since the new administration in India came to power.
IAMC had written to the President before he left for India to be the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations, urging him to communicate the international community’s concerns over attacks on minorities in India. On the final day of his visit to India, President Obama addressed a town hall event at the Siri Fort auditorium in which he called on India to uphold religious freedom. “Every person has the right to practice his faith without any persecution, fear or discrimination. India will succeed so long it is not splintered on religious lines,”the President stated. He followed this up with remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, stating that Mahatma Gandhi would have been shockedat the “acts of intolerance” in India.
The USCIRF press release made explicit references to these acts of intolerance. “In just the last three months, five churches were attacked in Delhi; Hindu nationalists reportedly forcibly converted Christians and Muslims; and a mob of more than 5,000 people attacked the majority-Muslim village of Azizpur, Bihar, killing three Muslims and setting about 25 houses on fire,” USCIRF stated. “In addition, on February 5, police detained hundreds of Christians demonstrating against attacks on churches in New Delhi, including John Dayal, a human rights activist, who testified on April 4, 2014 before the Tom Lantos Commission on “The Plight of Religious Minorities in India,”” added USCIRF in the recent press release.
President Obama’s reference to Mahatma Gandhi must be seen in the light of attempts by Hindu supremacist organizations affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to glorify the Mahatma’s assassin, Nathuram Godse. The RSS affiliated Hindu Mahasabha plans to install the assassin’s statue in temples across India. A bridge in the town of Alwar in the state of Rajasthan was going to be named after the man who killed Gandhi, but the plan was later shelved over fears of sectarian tensions. These brazen attempts to vilify the great champion of non-violence is rightly being seen as a sign of worse things to come for India’s beleaguered minorities.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence in the wake of such disturbing developments, lends credence to the belief that his administration professes a commitment to development, but looks the other way when RSS and its affiliates go about subverting India’s secular polity. A recent advertisement issued by the government on the occasion of India’s Republic Day omitted the words “secular, socialist” from the Preamble to India’s Constitution.
“The US should follow up its expressions of concern with concrete action, such as inclusion of human rights and religious freedom in the US-India Strategic Dialogue,” stated Mr. Umar Malick, President of IAMC. “A broad-based partnership between US and India must necessarily include a shared commitment to uphold our common values of pluralism and religious freedom,” added Mr. Malick.