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OPED | Wednesday, August 19, 2009 | Email | Print |

Surpassing Goebbels

Sandeep B

US uses fiction to slam freedom in India

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s India Chapter report on the extent of religious freedom in India released last week was an unwelcome ‘gift’ to India on the eve of its 62nd Independence Day. The report deserves to be flung into the nearest trash bin not because its prejudiced contents are predictable but because it’s the latest instance of America’s self-arrogated right to meddle with a sovereign republic’s internal affairs.

India firmly refused to issue visas to the USCIRF team despite recurrent requests earlier this year. This is entirely consistent with our time-honoured tradition of disallowing such intrusive adventures by foreign powers. The fact that the USCIRF’s India Chapter has released its report without first-hand experience of the situation here further bolsters its non-existent credibility. The 14-page report mentions the visa denial in a footnote, a clever ploy to make it appear as if the team studied things on the field.

Perusing the report confirms suspicions: It is based on a mix of hearsay, biased media reports, ‘verdicts’ of the Gujarat NGO cottage industry, and exhibits a total absence of the historical sense required to analyse socio-religious dynamics. Which makes it cushy to draw this conclusion: Hindu organisations are always the perpetrators of every act of societal conflagration. The USCIRF seems to have drawn this conclusion first and then sewn the ‘facts’ to arrive at it.

A news report in May had predicted that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was a likely target of the USCIRF’s visit. The report doesn’t disappoint. It dedicates an entire page to chastise Mr Modi, based on untrustworthy media reports. The USCIRF relies on Tehelka to “(reveal) the complicity of Mr Narendra Modi...” and calls upon the Government to “Ensure that any efforts to bring a case against Mr Modi are allowed to proceed in accordance with the law.” It is important to note the USCIRF’s duplicity here: The Indian Government is yet to take an official position on Tehelka’s “revelations” on Mr Modi. But the USCIRF decides that it is gospel truth! Second, how does the USCIRF assume the right to dictate the Indian Government to ensure that a case is framed against Mr Modi?

The report also repeats the same falsehoods about the Gujarat episode:

  • A fire on a train resulted in the death of 58 Hindus returning from Ayodhya. It appears that the compartment lit itself!

  • 2,000 Muslims dead in the riots. It’s hard to believe that the USCIRF hasn’t heard of Mr Sri Prakash Jaiswal’s (then Union Minister of State for Home) May 2005 report, which gives the following numbers: 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead, and 223 injured.

  • No rehabilitation of riot victims: The Gujarat Government has published detailed figures explaining the nature and amount of compensation provided to riot victims irrespective of religion.

The USCIRF follows the secular script in writing on the Hindu-Christian violence in Orissa and Karnataka. This script has some of its roots in the Graham Staines case, where Staines was painted as a sainted martyr with Dara Singh as his heartless butcher. No mention of the disruptive effect of wanton conversions as the cause for fake martyrdom. But opposing licentious conversions violates religious freedom! Understandably, the report devotes over two pages to this. To its eternal disgrace, the USCIRF actually blames Swami Lakshamananda Saraswati for “fomenting and encouraging... violence against Christians…” Can we interpret this to mean “and, therefore, he deserved to be murdered?”

What Orissa and Karnataka continue to witness is a widely-repeated phenomenon: Societal violence eventually occurs wherever Evangelists accelerate their conversion efforts. When they wean sufficient numbers away from their ancestral faith, they pit these neo converts against members of their erstwhile faith.

But the USCIRF pontificates on religious freedom while studiously ignoring real evidence from the other side. The 58 Hindus roasted alive, tribals coerced into Christianity, and Hindu gods abused as prostitutes’ sons have neither rights nor religious freedom.

Therein lies the true story of the USCIRF.

The USCIRF was set up in 1998 by Mr Bill Clinton who gave in to the pressure of the powerful Christian evangelical lobby. Most of the USCIRF appointees have the direct blessings of these evangelist groups. Its definition of ‘religious freedom’ includes unimpeded rights to convert populations at will without any respect for local customs and laws. Therefore, it is entirely consistent that one of the stronger recommendations of the India Chapter report urges the Indian Government to relax or do away with anti-conversion laws. It is also not coincidental that Pakistan and China don’t figure on the USCIRF ‘watch list’.

India shouldn’t recognise the self-righteous pronouncements of an agenda-driven body. One of the USCIRF’s goals is to give policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress. At best, the report is another method to gather intelligence about other countries.

India’s response was predictably weak. The right response was to give it the drubbing it deserves. But we have a vacillating Prime Minister who seeks US sanction for every action. Ironically, many Indian leaders turn to eminence in the US who have links with the USCIRF worthies for ‘advice’ on national security!

Communal violence in India is real but we don’t need ill-informed report writers in the US to tell us about it or what we need to do about it.

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Bullet Surpassing goebbels
By N.S. Rajaram on 8/19/2009 6:56:18 AM

Please note that the UDCIFR's statement was crafted by some Indian Christian leaders testifying before it. It was led by one John Dayal. This is according to those present at the hearings.

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