TODAY -

India Must Honour Its International Obligations On Real Freedom Of Religion

John Dayal *

Laymen's Evangelical Fellowship center at Moreh
Laymen's Evangelical Fellowship center at Moreh :: Pix - Lunminthang Haokip



Barring a Jesuit here or a Religious Sister there, all individuals, the Church in India seems rapidly withdrawing from social action in the country, specially action which smacks of anything political. As seen in the aftermath of the Koodamkulam anti-nuclear plant movement, the Government of India has beaten the church into submission by unleashing the full horror of its power to suspend the Foreign Contribution permit of the diocese and several non-government organisations in the district and the state.

Such action not only silences the voice of the people and restricts constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and of association, it also allows the government to get away with murder -- the murder of civil liberties in the country knowing there will be little or no protest. This gives a pungent edge to the government's refusal to acknowledge that there is something seriously wrong with the implementation of human rights and civil liberties, including the freedom of faith, in the Indian landmass, cutting across the political divide.

This perhaps was the reason that the Church, including the Catholic Church, was not active during the process of India's Universal Periodic Review at Geneva under the aegis of the United Nations Human Rights Council from March to September end this year. India's living in a state of denial was the most evident in this UPR. Every member country of the United Nations undergoes this process once every four years, opening itself up to scrutiny of the world on its human rights record, specially with respect to rights it has pledged to implement by signing the international treaties and protocols, such as Freedom of Religion and Faith, gender rights and such like.

Away from the glare of India Shining and the so called high growth now more honestly at less than 7 per cent annually, far away from the fabled 9 per cent it had been speaking of for the last five years -- India does abysmally on the rights of women and children, even on freedom of speech. Its worst records are on racism, as the Dalit issue is seen internationally, on issues of freedom of religion, and on torture. India, indeed, has not signed the international protocols on torture.

These were pointed out to India by ambassadors of various countries that cross-examined it in Geneva. The Indian government delegation, led no less than by Attorney General Vahanvati, accepted a few suggestions, but out of hand rejected or remained silent on most others. As some international agencies pointed out after the UPR process was over, India deliberately ignored urgent international and entreaties for an early enactment of laws against communal and targeted violence, an abrogation of the so called Freedom of Religion legislation several states, and accepting the long-pending demand of Dalit Christians for their Constitutional rights.

The Government of India's response to the 169 recommendations of the UNHRC reflected a pattern of only accepting recommendations that were generalized and broadly worded, lacking a targeted course of action directed to tackle discrimination and specific human rights challenges. Recommendations pertaining to specific as well as serious human rights issues were rejected, despite the Council's expressed concern.

India has not accepted recommendations asking to create a comprehensive framework to deal effectively with the particular circumstances of communal or targeted violence. The government says communal violence is only a sporadic problem. The religious minorities contest this argument as they continue to be violently attacked in a number of states. As we have seen in Kandhamal and Karnataka specially, victims are also not able to access justice. And this situation, the Christian community specially fears, will continue to be repeated in future unless some immediate steps are taken by the government to prevent and pre-empt acts of communal violence.

Church groups in India have urged the government to bring forth the Bill on prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence, including issues of compensation rehabilitation, and reparation, at the earliest. Such a Bill was drafted by the National Advisory Council in 2011 and given to the government. This Bill has been put in cold storage specially after Hindu groups and political groups such as Bharatiya Janata Party mounted a well orchestrated campaign, reviling the proposed law as specifically targeting the Hindu community in the country, despite explanations that it would protect Hindus in states such as Jammu and Kashmir and Mizoram where they too were a demographic minority.

Christian and Muslim groups are pressing the draft legislation should be taken out, refined in consonance with principles of federalism, and enacted as law to effectively bring an end to communal strife which has ravaged this country in the last six decades. Arguably, the situation in Kandhamal, both the violence, the shoddy rehabilitation programme and the lack of justice, could have been avoided if such a law was in place.

The Christian community, cutting across denominational lines, has also been pressing for a long time that the federal Government take necessary legislative and legal steps to recall the so called Freedom of Religion Acts promulgated in several states. These Acts are being used to harass and intimidate religious minorities, and in particular the Christian Community and their pastors, house churches and community gatherings. The law is strongly backed by the BJP and what is called the Sangh Parivar, the motley group consisting of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's right wing hyper nationalist, organisations. But it also has the backing of a section of the Congress specially in the Indo-Gangetic plains of northern and Central India which are politically important.

It does seem an uphill task on these two, but Christian activists remain hopeful that a well thought out national and international advocacy programme can get them the support of a very large segment of India's secular population which has been repelled by the many acts of violence targetting the Sikhs, in 1984, and the Muslims and Christians over many decades.


* John Dayal wrote this article
Madhu Chandra sent this article to e-pao.net and can be contacted at madhuchandra66(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on October 12, 2012.



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