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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Can Bharat stand for persecuted Hindus like USA does for Christians?

The United States is the most powerful Democracy, and Bharat is the largest democracy. Both nations have statutes/amendments in their respective Constitutions that provide for a plethora of rights: including freedom of association, freedom to assemble, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. But there is one essential difference in the way the governments engage in advocacy of human rights in these two countries.

On May 11, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence delivered a talk at the ‘World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians’, which was hosted by Reverend Franklin Graham. The topic discussed at this talk was Christian persecution. Pence addressed a large number of Christian leaders. Pence affirmed his faith, his conservatism, and his steadfast allegiance to the Republican Party.

Mike Pence Encourages ‘Persecuted’ Christians at World Summit in Their Defense – Courtesy: Breitbart

According to Pence, more than 215 million Christians confront “intimidation, imprisonment, forced conversion, abuse, assault, or worse, for holding to the truths of the Gospel,” “from Iran to Eritrea, Nigeria to North Korea.” Pence primarily held the Islamic State responsible for this persecution, and stated that such savagery has not been witnessed since the middle ages. He concluded his address by assuring the audience that President Trump stood with persecuted believers, wherever in the world they may be. But what drew forth almost immediate backlash from the media, was his assertion that Christianity is the most persecuted faith across the world.

U.S. Constitution on Religious Liberty

It is important to understand that religion and politics have had sometimes tumultuous, sometimes romantic, and sometimes detached relation throughout U.S. history. From backyards, to school/university classrooms, and to legislative assemblies, religion has gotten entangled with the State. The courts have assiduously tried to keep the line between religion and the State distinctly sharp. Nowhere is this distinction more prominently enforced, than it is in the first 16 words of the First Amendment, and Article VI of the Constitution. The First Amendment has also put forth the establishment clause, which forbids governments at the Federal, State and municipal level to discriminate on the basis of religion.

A particularly pertinent case that propounds the relation between the State and religion is Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (197). The Lemon Test was born out of this case. It states:

  • The State must have a secular purpose.
  • The government must not advance nor inhibit religion.
  • There must not be excessive government entanglement with religion.

However these provisions do not and have not prevented the U.S. government from highlighting religious persecution, namely Christian persecution. It did not stop the formation of the U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom (USCERF), an evangelical organization that purportedly monitors religious persecution across the globe. And, it certainly does not create any encumbrances for politicians such as the Vice President who prefers to project the U.S. in terms of a religious identity.

Bharat’s Constitution on Religious Liberty

Post-independence Bharat, like the U.S., has a Constitution that provides for religious liberties. These religious liberties are spelled out in Articles 25 through 28. The objective of this liberty is to sustain secularism. The word secularism itself was inserted in Bharat’s Constitution by the Indira Gandhi government via the “Forty-second amendment Act, 1976.” Secularism’s supposed meaning is that all religions are equal before the law, and no one religion shall be given preference over another. Of course, the distortion of this practice should be reserved for another discussion.

Contrasts in Advocacy?

Unlike the U.S. government however, successive Bharatiya administrations have failed miserably in highlighting Hindu persecution. One can conclude that nothing in the country’s laws prevents the government from speaking out, underscoring, and predicating relations with a country on how it treats its minority Hindu population.

For example, pre-1947, Hindus comprised 31 percent of Bangladesh’s (formerly East Pakistan) population. Today, this number has plummeted to less than nine percent. In 2016 alone, dozens of Hindu Mandirs were destroyed by Islam’s faithful, and several Hindu priests were beheaded or hacked to death.

Pakistan is another deathtrap for Hindus. Hindus comprised 26 percent of the population there before independence. Presently, it has fallen to a little under 2 percent. Horrifying stories of abduction, rape, forced conversion & marriage of Hindu girls to Muslim men keep surfacing with alarming frequency. Hundreds of Mandirs have been destroyed, and Hindus and other minorities face a slew of discriminatory laws and constitutional injunctions. In late April, a Hindu Mandir was vandalized, and a Murti was thrown into sewage. As if that was not intolerable enough, Pakistan still has severely outdated blasphemy laws which were promulgated by the British in 1860 to protect religious feelings. These laws are enshrined in Article II of the Pakistani Constitution. This Article makes Islam the State’s official religion. Blasphemy laws are there to protect Islam’s authority. This has of course adversely affected Hindus and other minorities who have suffered at the hands of merciless lynch mobs comprising the faithful.

Kashmir is yet another place where the Hindu presence has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former self. The well-known 1990 exodus of Kashmiri Hindus (Pandits) was not a case of a group deciding that migration to other parts of Bharat would be a lucrative choice. The Kashmiri Hindus were systematically targeted by Muslim goons. The mosques, unsurprisingly, sided with the mayhem. Large bloodthirsty savage Muslim mobs shouted vicious slogans such as:

  • “Yahan kya chalega- Nizam E Mustafa” (What will rule Kashmir – Rule of Allah)
  • “Kashmir mein agar rehna hai, Allah-o-Akbar kahna hai” (Only those who believe in Allah, i.e. only Muslims, can live in Kashmir)
  • “La ilah Illalah- Pakistan banega Inshalaah” (Praise to God! Kashmir will be Pakistan)
  • Pakistan se rishta kya, La ilah illalah” (Our relation with Pakistan, Islam!)
  • “Indian dogs – Go Back”
  • “Aes gacche’ Pakistan, Batav ros’ te’ batnev saan” (we want Kashmir- without Pandit men, but with Pandit women)
  • “Battav Ya Raliv, Chaliv nate’ Galiv” (Pandits- either join us/convert, leave or die)

Kashmiri papers ran anti-Pandit propaganda stories. The minority Hindus pleaded with their Muslim neighbors, but to no avail. More than 400,000 Kashmiri Hindus fled Kashmir to Jammu, and other parts of the country from January 1990 onwards.

How does Bharat’s Government Advocate for Hindu Human Rights?

In a nutshell, it does not.

It is not really surprising at all that the Bangladeshi and Pakistani government do not take any sort of concrete steps to address ethnic cleansing of the Hindu minority in their countries. But it is quite surprising that while successive Bharatiya governments have fought wars with Pakistan, created Bangladesh, and have progressed at a decent rate as regards economy and military might, Bharat’s policy makers have completely ignored, and at times insulted the philosophical lifeblood of the country, i.e. Hindu Dharma, and the rights and liberties of its adherents in Bharat and other countries.

Successive administrations have utterly failed to take a single measure that ensure Hindus living in Islamic countries, are allowed to live there with dignity, and are not at risk of extinction due to genocidal tendencies of the majority population. Bharat’s policy makers have not formed a think tank whereby issues of Hindu human rights can be discussed and where solutions can be sought and implemented. Moreover, no government body/committee tasked with carrying out investigations of abuse and atrocities against the Hindu population, has been formed. This is particularly important in countries like Malaysia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. As if that was not enough, even the Kashmiri Hindus that were hounded out of Kashmir, have not been resettled in their ancestral homeland.

The Primary Culprit?

It is a tragedy that post-independent Bharat has foisted upon itself a concept known as secularism. The term was coined by British freethinker George Jacob Holyoake. This concept is argued to have brought about the De-Christianization of France, and heralded the French Revolution. Its primary aim is to keep the State and religion separate from each other.

This concept was and is not at all warranted in Bharat. Hindus have always been accommodating to all who came to their territory, and have never advocated governance models based on Hindu religious scripture or dominated by a centralized religious clergy. It is entirely unnecessary to force-feed a concept to a society that does not require such a concept. But high on inferiority complex, and low on pride for their Hindu heritage, Bharat’s leaders elected to promote an irrelevant and dangerously distorted concept.

Now, it would have been fine if the true ideals of secularism had been followed. But far from implementing secularism’s true ideals, Bharat’s politicians have a no-holds-barred policy when it comes to distorting Bharat’s history – insulting, downplaying, and neglecting anything remotely Hindu, and rigorously lauding and promoting anything anti-Hindu. Needless to say, this is hardly secularism. In this vitiated atmosphere, it is difficult to even proclaim oneself as Hindu, let alone advocate for Hindu human rights.

Far from playing a proactive role in advocating for Hindu & Dharmic human rights, Bharat’s lily-livered politicians and political parties have not even thought it crucial to react to a strong anti-Bharat, anti-Hindu narrative. For instance, individuals with dubious credentials such as Arundhati Roy, Basharat Peer, Sanjay Kak, Nitasha Kaul, Pankaj Mishra, and Mirza Waheed, have made a lucrative career out of painting the Kashmiri Muslims as hapless victims, the Kashmiri Jihadis as valorous heroes, the Indian Army as a bloodthirsty and undisciplined institution out to get the poor helpless Kashmiris Muslims, and Kashmiri Hindus as self-serving non-entities, whose rights can easily be ignored and trampled upon. These foul individuals, masquerading as academics, trot the globe and spread the venom. This narrative is not only an irritation, but it has seeped deep into mainstream media across the world, and is portrayed as an unequivocal reality. The Bharatiya State has done precious little to confront this narrative, and present an alternative depiction.

So What Next?

The Belgian scholar, Dr. Koenraad Elst has contended in his writings that the Narendra Modi government has not really done anything, i.e. promulgated policies which could be considered pro-Hindu. It is difficult to disagree with this point of view. But all is not lost. The Modi government could still redeem itself before the 2019 elections. As regards human rights of the Hindus, his government can begin by speaking out for Hindu human rights, particularly in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Since the end of the Second World War, more importance has been allotted to human rights across the world. What does this mean for Bharat’s policy makers? This means that if today the Modi government decides to speak out in favor of the Hindu minorities, the international community will not vigorously denounce it. The only, and of course, expected condemnation will come from the anti-Hindu fascistic corner which will unsurprisingly consider the highlighting of ethnic cleansing of Hindus in predominantly Islamic countries, as some sort of affront to Bharat’s secular image. But does it really matter? Should Prime Minister Modi really be concerned about the same crowd that maliciously hounded him for more than a decade? He absolutely should not.

 The incumbent government can set up an organization which is similarly modeled along the lines of the USCIRF. This organization can conduct fact finding investigations into how the Hindu minority is fairing in Islamic countries as well as Western countries. It can take those findings, and highlight that in the international arena. Of course, it would be a foolish proposition to expect the government to bear the entire burden of making such an organization successful, for the obvious reasons that political parties come and go. But a healthy dose of political endorsement and marginal funding, can prove to be a great initiative. Alternatively, if the government is unwilling or unable to establish such an organization, it can certainly provide incentives to independent groups and individuals to conduct fact finding investigations, and provide grants based on their level of expertise and overall quality of research and output.

It is without a shadow of a doubt that Bharat has nothing to lose from terminating relations with countries like Pakistan for ethnic cleansing of the Hindu minority. After all, Bharat’s official stated position is that terror and dialogue cannot go hand-in-hand. Why not take the next logical step, and say that terror and human rights abuses of a particular minority based on religion cannot go hand-in-hand with any sort of dialogue?

Hindus have been at the receiving end of a protracted physical and psychological confrontation, and sadly, post-independence leaders did not take any steps to lessen the effects of this warfare. But due to the advent of the internet and social media, the Hindu voice is being increasingly projected and heard. Enterprising individuals and groups have launched a plethora of platforms, where columnists and the general public spanning the entire globe, can share information, and bypass the mainstream media.

The U.S. is indubitably a democracy, with safeguards for its citizens that actually go beyond basic freedoms outlined in international treaties concerning religious freedom. And yet, its politicians as well as think tanks have been able to successfully advocate for Christian human rights across the globe, without causing a ripple in constitutional protections. Bharat too, can advocate for Hindus to live a dignified life in Bharat and in Islamic countries.

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Adity Sharma
Adity Sharma
Adity Sharma is a student at St. John's University School of Law in New York. She has previously written for India Facts, Vijayvaani, Chakranews and Beliefnet.



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