Table of Contents
- Major Concerns
- Conflict of Interest
- Inconsistent & Partial Reporting
- Error of Omission
- Minor Concern
- Error of Commission
- Reform Recommendations
- Why Reform?
In 1998, The United States Congress passed International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) and created The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to advocate “Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion” detailed in IRFA 1998. Congress has vested its “symbolic capital”, and its right to exercise “symbolic violence” in hands of USCIRF. It is USCIRFs obligation to prepare each and every report in compliance with section 202(a) (2) of the IRFA 1998. Every formal submission of USCIRF report carries an IRFA 1998 compliance statement. [(1)] [(2)]
Second instance, Fiji is identified as a violator of "Freedom of Worship" by U.S. Department of State's annual IRF report and Hindu American Foundation's annual Hindu Human Rights Report for several years. U.S. Department of State's 2001 Fiji Report states "Methodist Church authorities and allied political parties continue to work for the establishment of a Christian state". U.S Department of State's 2009 report displays concern around nationwide "Christian crusade" directed by Fijian Police Commissioner. In sharp contrast, Fiji does not figure into any USCIRF annual reports till date. [(50)] [(51)] [(52)] [(53)]
Third instance, Hinduism or Hinduity rejects most distinctions between Believers and non-Believers. It more or less treats Hindus and non-Hindus equally. In a judgement the Supreme Court of India ruled that the terms Hinduism or Hindutva is related more to the ways of life of the people in the subcontinent, It is based on the idea of universal receptivity and cannot be confined to narrow limits of religion alone. [(41)] On the contrary, USCIRF accuses Hinduity or Hindutva of discriminating between Hindus and non-Hindus. Many websites listed in “Hyperlink to Hinduphobia: Online Hatred, Extremism and Bigotry against Hindus” attacks Hinduity in similar manner. As per IRFA 1998, USCIRF should be against misappropriation of Hinduity from within and without. It should constructively criticize both set of misuser particularly the misuser within. Instead, It acts like a misuser and attacks Hinduity itself. [(8)]
Fourth instance, USCIRF 2009 India report's description of "Orissa Riots" papered over freedom of religion issues like December 2007 attack on Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati, August 2008 attack on Jalespeta Hindu monastery and resulting massacre of 5 Hindu worshipers including Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati, woman and childran. Instead of reporting violation of freedom of all religions, USCIRF reported "Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati played a central role in fomenting and encouraging the December 2007 violence against christains". [(33)] [(34)] [(35)] [(41)] [(42)] [(43)]
Fifth Instance, USCIRF 2009 report under sub-title Gujarat Violence in 2002 states “In February 2002 in the state of Gujarat…Christians were also victims in Gujarat, and many churches were destroyed”, but In reality, 3 churches were damaged, and 0 Christians were killed. More-over, Report omits following facts: 254 Hindus killed, 17 Hindu temples damaged, and 10,000 Hindus fled their homes. Instead of reporting factual violation of freedom of all religions, USCIRF uses deceptive hyperbole and discriminatory omission. [(23)] [(24)] [(25)] [(27)] [(28)]
Inconsistent & Partial Reporting:
USCIRF 2009 annual report [(9)] covering other countries is significantly different then 2009 India report [(8)] in term of coverage of major themes, selection of content, presentation, balance, and overall advocacy of freedom of religion.
Major themes found in most USCIRF report
|Covered in other report||Covered in India Report||India report explanation|
|Yes||No||Only Hindu entities suffer due to asymmetric provisions in India's constitution.|
|Government confiscation and control of religious entities and property right.||Yes||No||In India, Only Hindu temples are confiscated and controlled by government.|
Religion based discrimination in providing government benefits.
|Yes||Partial||India report omits discrimination faced by Hindus.|
Civil unrest and Riots
Almost entire India report is devoted to this theme.
USCIRF other country report provides detailed description of terror groups and violation of freedom of religion carried out by them. On the other hand, USCIRF chose to omit similar details from India report.
Covers problem faced by all religions regardless of majority and minority status.
Problems faced by Hindu entities are mostly omitted in India report.
Both India and Turkey are secular democracies. Major political debate in both countries is around interpretation of secularism which in Turkey results in violation of freedom of all religion and in India results in violation of freedom of Hindu religion. Both have history of banning opposition parties and jailing opposition leaders. In both countries, Establishment is challenged by controversial political party. In turkey, AKP wants reintegration of Islam into public life in a manner consistent with modernity and democracy but its true motives are questioned. In India, BJP wants to remove pseudo from what it calls pseudo-secularism, bring cultural nationalism aka hindutva and integral humanism in public life but its true motives are questioned. Two very similar situations receive radically different treatment in USCIRF 2009 reports. [(8)] [(9)]
Quality and curriculum of Madrassa education is more or less similar in Pakistan and India. [(37)] USCIRF 2009 Pakistan report is critical of Madrassa curricula and stresses need for oversight and changes. On the other hand, USCIRF 2009 India report displays no such concerns. More-over, it positively notes Government of India’s announcement that Madrassa degrees would be equivalent to university degrees. [(8)] [(9)]
Most USCIRF reports are critical of police excesses like detainment, profiling, harassment and usage of lethal weapons during civil unrest. For India, USCIRF reports police profiling, harassment, detainment and two gun-battle deaths of Muslim youth during police investigation of several 2008 terror bomb blasts which killed 308 and injured many more. As a rule, USCIRF acts as a champion of human rights and civil rights of accused civilian, but there are five exceptions to rule. USCIRF India report has listed five events of civil unrest and mass rioting. In one incident alone police detained 35,552 civilians, fired 10,000 rounds of bullets killing 170 civilians and injuring many more. In recent times, only few civil disorders like Tiananmen Square witnessed higher usage of lethal weapons, killing and detention of civilians. Indian police response to civil unrest and rioting is too late, too crude and too lethal. Need is for rapid response, preparedness, prevention, usage of non-lethal weapons like Taser, stun grenade etc., and greater protection of civil rights. Yet, USCIRF displayed no civil right or human right violation concerns around massive arrests and usage of lethal force during civil unrest. On the contrary, it is focused on punishing the accused. It correctly laments about sloppy prosecution and poor conviction rate. It describes Indian police response as “inadequate” meaning “too little”. It states “Mass arrests following the Orissa violence did not translate into the actual filing of cases”. In it's aberrant zeal to punish, Is USCIRF overlooking the fact that mass arrests without filing cases probably violates Article 9 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights? [(8)] [(9)] [(27)]
Error of Omission:
Government violation of freedom of religion by Constitutional provisions, Confiscation of houses of worship and property right is the largest theme found in most USCIRF country report. However, It is completely omitted from 2009 India report.
Here is an overview of omitted problem:
Although the Indian government allows for freedom of religion, its constitution provides lesser rights and protection to Hindus vs. non-Hindus paving way for hostile government take-over of Hindu institutes and misappropriation of its assets and income. More-over, Minority institutes also receive exclusive benefit in form of Exemption from 2005 Amendment to the Article 15 of Indian constitution, 95% grant-in-aid, and exemption from draconian Urban Land Ceiling Act 1976. Thus, perpetuating 700 year old injustice. [(12)] [(18)] [(19)] [(20)]
Due to Government confiscation, most sacred and holy sites of Hinduism are today under government control. There is rampant mismanagement, corruption, misappropriation of temple income and stripping of temple assets. In many states, temple donations are appropriated as government revenue and significant portion of it is allocated for non-Hindu purpose like maintaining non-Hindu place of worship. [(13)]
What makes matters worse is that ruling political parties often subscribe to ideologies which are inherently hostile or prejudiced towards Hinduism. Thus, Hindu institutes live under constant threat of ideologically motivated government take-over and subsequent destruction. For instance, State of Tamil Nadu is ruled by Dravidian parties for over two decades. Dravidian ideology believes in discredited racial theory of Aryan Invasion. It is openly anti Shri Ram, anti Sanskrit and anti Brahmin. Ruling ideology has a history of publicly anti-Hindu issuing threats and has carried out those threats (e.g., attack and desecration of several hindu temples) in many instances. [(14)] [(15)] [(16)]
Many organizations feel that Hindu label is a liability. It exposes them to ideologically inspired attacks, places them at a serious financial disadvantage and paves way for government confiscation. As a result, several entities like Rama-Krishna Mission, Arya Samaj, and Jains etc. have filed law-suits and done intense lobbying to declare them self a non-Hindu minority religion. For Instance, in west Bengal, Rama Krishna Mission whose colleges and schools were in danger of hostile take-over by Marxist government petitioned the courts to have their organization and movement declared a non-Hindu minority religion. [(17)] [(18)] [(19)] [(20)]
Article 30 of Indian Constitution discriminates on grounds of religion. Article 30 should be made inclusive. It should be expanded to include all religions and groups.Government control of Hindu Institutes violates Article 25 and 26 of Indian Constitution which bestow freedom of religion, and freedom to manage religious affairs. More-over, it often leaves Hindu Institutes at mercy of ruling political party subscribing to atheist, un-Hindu and/or anti-Hindu ideology. Thus, all religious institutes should be freed from clutches of government.
Article 29 of Indian Constitution provides extra protection of minority interest. This is a good provision. However, Based on India’s unique history of Hindu persecution, Current status of Hindu religion’s freedom and prevalence of extremist political ideologies, it would be prudent to expand article 29 and make it inclusive.
Government of India’s confiscation and control of Hindu temple not only violates freedom of religion but also handicaps Hindu freedom to propagate faith, thus, tilting religious conversion field in favor of non-Hindu faiths. Why USCIRF made an exception and omitted not only its largest theme but also most significant violation from 2009 India report? Is it due to conflict of interest? If Churches were discriminated, confiscated, controlled and plundered by Government of India then would USCIRF stay silent? Is this double-standard? This deviant exception and discriminatory omission is a colossal failure to stand up for “Freedom of Religion” placing entire USCIRF 2009 India report out of compliance with IRFA 1998.
India is the second largest victim of terror ( i.e., 10200 terror related fatalities in 4 years from 2006 to 2009[(40)] ) in the world, and most terrorist groups operating in India are significant violator of freedom of religion, yet USCIRF report under misleading sub-title “Responses to Terrorism and the Prevention of Communal Violence” is narrowly focused on prevention of civil unrest in wake of terror attacks. There is no detailed description of violation of freedom of religion carried out by terror groups, Government of India's failure/success against terrorism and lack of justice to terror-victims. USCIRF chose to omit those details from India report. On the other hand, USCIRF other country report provides detailed description of terror groups and violation of freedom of religion carried out by them.
USCIRF report states “In January 2009, thousands of Muslims protested the death of two young Muslim men shot by police during a sweep following bomb blasts in Jaipur.” Unfortunately, There are many problems with this statement:
First, USCIRF report creates misleading impression of two unarmed young men shot in cold blood by police. The actual event is called Batla House gun fight (i.e., A gun battle between armed terror-suspects and police) which occured on September 19th, 2008 in New Delhi.
Second, USCIRF omitted the fact that one police officer died, another police officer was injured and one terror-suspect was arrested in Batla House gun fight [(42)].
Error of Commission:
Error of Commission is a relatively minor issue. It has little bearing on Reform Recommendations. Those who are not interested in India’s civil unrest, rioting and terrorism problem may want to skip this section and go to Reform Recommendations.
India Report starts with premise that in India, all religious communities have historically coexisted peacefully until rise of organizations with Hindu nationalist agenda in 1990s. In order to buttress its premise, Majority of the remaining report is devoted to biased description of five events of civil unrest and riots. In this description, Commission not only omits many major facts but also exaggerates chosen facts. Those omitted facts undermine commission’s premise, and exaggerations undermine commission's credibility. Thus, giving rise to question: When does a half-truth become quasi-lie? Following paragraphs list few such omissions and exaggerations.
Rise of so called Hindu nationalist organization started in 1990s. However, Anti-Sikh riot, which is the largest of the five events described by USCIRF, happened in 1984. USCIRF 2001 report blames Sangh Parivar for violence against Sikhs, but in reality Sangh Parivar saved hundreds of Sikh lives and played a crucial role in restoring peace. This well known role has been noted in Judicial Inquiry report submitted by retired Supreme Court judge Justice Nanavati and was also praised by Late President of India Giani Zail Singh who was a Sikh and leader of rival congress party.[(21)] [(22)]
Both the second and third largest event as well as rise of so called Hindu nationalist organizations it-self is the result of what happened in 1528AD, and justice delayed on a court petition filed in 1948AD. In fact, Ground zero of second largest event Godhra city has witnessed civil unrest and riots in the years 1925, 1928, 1946, 1948, 1950, 1953, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 and 2002 . Godhra riots which had taken place in the year 1948 was very serious. Initially the Muslims had burnt 869 houses of Hindus. Thereafter the Hindus had burnt 3071 houses of Muslims. This well known history is also stated in Judicial Inquiry report on USCIRF’s second largest event. Report was prepared by Justice Nanavati and Justice Mehta inquiry commission. [(23)] However, USCIRF chose to omit and ignore entire report and its findings.
USCIRF’s premise of historically peaceful coexistent until rise of Hindu Nationalist organization is not true. Neither India’s blood soaked history of religious persecution, separatism and partition nor five events listed by commission support it.
USCIRF report under sub-title Gujarat Violence in 2002 states “In February 2002 in the state of Gujarat, a fire on a train resulted in the death of 58 Hindus returning from Ayodhya. Following this, 2,000 Muslims were killed across Gujarat by Hindu mobs, thousands of mosques and Muslim-owned businesses were looted or destroyed, and more than 100,000 people fled their homes. Christians were also victims in Gujarat, and many churches were destroyed.”
On the other hand, Quite different picture emerges based on facts from judicial report submitted by Justice Nanavati & Mehta Panel [(23)], rival congress government’s Official statement in parliament [(24)] and other national news sources: On 27th February 2002 in the state of Gujarat, Sabarmati Express train was forcibly stopped and attacked by about 500+ strong Muslim mob. As a result, 59 Hindus passengers mostly Women, Children and seniors returning from holy city of Ayodhya were burned alive. Following this, Resulting riots killed 790 Muslims and additional 254 Hindus. 223 people were reported missing and 2548 sustained injuries. 523 places of worship damaged, 298 were dargahs, 205 mosques, 17 temples and 3 churches. Muslim-owned businesses suffered bulk of damage. 61,000 Muslims and 10,000 Hindus fled their homes. Preventive arrests of 17,947 Hindus and 3,616 Muslims were made. In total 27,901 Hindus and 7,651 Muslims were arrested. Nearly 10,000 rounds of bullets were fired by the police killing 93 Muslims and 77 Hindus. [(25)] [(27)] [(28)]
This indeed is a ghastly set of events; However, USCIRF repeats the pattern of discriminatory omissions and exaggerations. This pattern goes against the very spirit of sectional advocacy and IRFA 1998. USCIRF once again omits Hindu suffering and killing. It not only hides identity of train-attackers but also hides the train-attack. Is this double-standard? Is USCIRF's statement of Christian victims a deceptive Hyperbole driven by conflict of interest?
USCIRF report under sub-title Orissa Violence in 2007 and 2008 states “In December 2007 in Orissa’s Kandhamal district, violence between Christians and Hindus resulted in several deaths, dozens of injuries, the destruction of at least 20 churches and hundreds of homes, and the displacement of hundreds, many from minority religious communities. According to reports by India’s National Commission for Minorities [(NCM)] the tensions between the Christians, many of whom are from low-caste communities, and the Hindus, many of whom are from tribal communities, were well-known and longstanding. According to Christian groups and news reports, the influential local VHP leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati played a central role in fomenting and encouraging the December 2007 violence against Christians. ”
First, USCIRF omitted the cause of historic tension. Here is the background information explaining cause of this historic tension. This explanation is based on Judicial Inquiry report submitted by Justice Mohapatra [(29)], Home ministry of India’s annual report [(31)], and other national news sources: Riots happened in remote forest region of Kandhamal. Parts of Kandhamal is tribal reservation where only tribal can own land. Even though largest community in Kandhamal is Kandha tribe, who according USCIRF 2001 report follow tribal religion, Socio Economic and Political landscape is dominated by second largest community non-tribal Panna who are mostly low-caste christian. Region is also home of Maoist terror group which is the largest terror group operating against India and responsible for 3338 deaths in India in 5 years from 2004 to 2008. Maoist has pro-claimed Hindu nationalist organizations as their natural enemy and many local Kandhamal terrorists are Panna-Caste-Christians. Major Issues in Kandhamal are illegal and forcible occupation of tribal land, fake issuance of tribal certificates, illegal building of places of worship mostly churches and temples on tribal and government land, religious conversions, re-conversions and terrorism. This has also resulted in Civil unrest and tensions between Kandha-tribe and Panna-caste-christians in 1986, 1994 and 2001. [(30)] [(32)] (note: USCIRF 2001 report describes tribals and tribal religion as distinct from Hindus and Hinduism respectively. On the contrary, USCIRF 2009 report describes rioting tribals as Hindu)
Second, USCIRF omitted the attack on Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati, which triggered major riots in December 2007. Here is a brief description of attack based on reports by India’s National Commission for Minorities (NCM), NGO, and national news sources: Long simmering dispute between Kandha tribe and Panna caste christians took a turn for worse when Pannas started lobbying for their categorization as "Tribal". Tribal categorization would allow Pannas to buy tribal land and help regularize existing illegal occupation. Kandha tribe launched a mass movement against Panna categorization as "Tribal" which lead to minor conflicts. Swami Laxmananda Saraswati was on his way to visit trouble spot. A bus belonging to Mr. Sugriba Singh, who is BJD Member of Parliament (Lower House) and Panna Christian leader, obstructed the road and Swami was attacked on that spot seriously injuring him, driver and security guard. In his victim’s statement, Swami suspected Mr. Radha Kanta Nayak, Congress Member of Parliament (Upper House) and chief of Christian group World Vision. He further stated that this was for the seventh time that they failed to kill him. This victim's statement caused more inflamation. Instead of reporting violation of freedom of all religions, USCIRF blatantly reported "Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati played a central role in fomenting and encouraging the December 2007 violence against christains". Is USCIRF condoning this violation of freedom of religion (i.e., attack) ? [(33)] [(34)] [(35)]
Third, USCIRF failed to describe Jalespeta massacre. Here is the omitted detail based on national news source: On August 24th 2008, Jalespeta Kanya Ashram (i.e., Hindu monastery, temple and residential girls school) was celebrating Janmashtami (i.e., Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Lord Krishna). In the evening, Ashram was attacked by a group of 30-40 armed assailants who murdered five persons including Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, woman, and children. This massacre was witnessed by several schoolgirls, and it sparked 2008 riots. [(41)] [(42)] [(43)]
Final, Attack on a place of worship and massacre of worshippers is a flagrant violation of freedom of religion. It's discriminatory omission from USCIRF report is a failure to champion freedom of religion. Is this in compliance with IRFA 1998?
For Instance, India’s secular Supreme Court has ordered destruction of hundreds of places of worship mostly Hindu temples illegally constructed on government land. It has firmly rejected pleas for compensation and leniency in such matters. However, In case of churches built on disputed tribal or government land it asked Orissa government to take a lenient view and provide riot damage compensation. This dualistic approach sends strong signal to lower courts. However, Wrongful occupation of tribal land is a violation of “The Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act”. This act presumes guilt unless the contrary is proved. Minimum penalty for small crimes like Verbal abuse is six months of imprisonment and for larger crimes maximum penalty is death sentence. In it’s rare zeal of leniency, is India’s supreme-court condoning potential violations of “The Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act”?. More-over, Act states "the accused rendered any financial assistance to a person accused of, or reasonably suspected of committing, an offence under this Chapter, the Special Court shall presume, unless the contrary is proved, that such person had abetted the offence". In other words, Providing financial assistance to a person suspected of committing an offense under this law is a crime. Financial provider is presumed guilty unless contrary is proved. Isn't supreme court's lenient view judgement aiding and abetting financial compensation to persons suspected of wrongful occupation of tribal land? If yes then as per the act, should supreme court judge's be presumed guilty unless contrary is proved? [(40)] [(30)]
In another Instance, In Best Bakery riot case Supreme Court of India ordered several procedural changes including unprecedented step of moving court venue outside Gujarat based on an affidavit of ‘star witness’ and victim's spouse Zahira Sheikh. Later on the affidavit was found false. An inquiry was ordered by the Supreme Court, proceedings were initiated against Zahira Sheikh and she was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment. However, Orders and procedural changes made on basis of false affidavit were not annulled. Can procedural changes based upon fake affidavit pass “fundamental fairness” test? In its zeal to punish, is India’s supreme court turning a blind eye towards probable violations of procedural rights and due process of law? [(36)]
USCIRF India report did make several useful recommendations and highlighted the need to prevent misuse of law. However, it creates a misleading and distorted picture of an extremely complex and a very old problem.
- USCIRF should develop an internal ethics and IRFA 1998 compliance audit methodology. It should conduct internal audits for it's reports. US Congress must trust but verify. It should do Independent audit and verification of IRFA 1998 compliance.
- Monitoring Freedom of Religion across the world ex USA and generating necessary reports is a daunting task which cannot be done without a standard, streamlined, and compliant process. Create standard report template and mission-centric process which will cover all major causes of violation of freedom of religion like Constitutional Provisions, Government Confiscation and Control of places of worship, property rights etc.
- Improve quality, transparency and focus of reports. USCIRF must ensure that it's reports are focused on it's mission. It should vet and disclose source of all facts and figures cited in its report. Vague terms like “many” can easily be used to create misleading hyperbole. Such terms should be replaced with approximate number.
- Current make-up of USCIRF is unrepresentative of its members whose rights it is suppose to champion. Make USCIRF a democratic sectional advocacy group. In other words, all members are represented and have exactly 1 vote. Alternatively, all commissioners should be un-affiliated.
- In an intra-member conflict, Report must represent both sides. Standard of fairness and balance must be significantly high. In order to prevent discrimination, such reports must be approved by two-third majority.
- Commission should make an extra effort to champion latent or unpopular interest. This cannot be done without questioning popular premise built on prevailing prejudice. For Instance, Hypothetically if this commission was setup in 1829AD than it should not only refrain from painting popular “Wild Wild West Indian Savage” portrait but also take an unpopular stand of championing freedom of both religions namely Native American faith and Christianity.
- USA has witnessed more than 250 incidents of civil unrest and rioting.[(39)] USCIRF should study government handling, police response, arrest rate and court conviction rate in few such events. There are several ways to respond ranging from communist response at Tiananmen Square, J. Edgar Hoover’s suggestion to shoot the rioters during 1968 Washington, D.C. riots, Walter Washington’s refusal to shoot the rioters during 1968 Washington, D.C. riots etc. Based on its study, USCIRF should publish a framework of acceptable level of police response, arrest rate and court conviction rate. In order to avoid double-standard, USCIRF should consistently apply that framework in all cases of civil unrest and riots.
- Protect the credibility of USCIRF and by extension USA. Vanquish all suspicions about hidden-motive of USCIRF.
- Compliance with IRFA 1998 law.
- Ensure that USCIRF is advocating "Freedom of All Religions", and it's advocacy is free of discrimination.
- Improve quality, consistency, transparency, productivity and focus.