January 19, 2014 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Sacramento, USA (January 19, 2014): According to a detailed statement sent to the Sikh Siyasat News (SSN) by Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI): [while] opposing oppression of religious minorities in India, Christians are uniting with Sikhs this week, asking five congressional representatives from Northern California to support House Resolution 417, a statement by the United States Congress which calls for religious freedom and related human rights to be included in U.S.–India talks.
“The long and rich relationship between India and the United States should be cherished and cultivated,” said Chris Schwegler, an advisor to Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI). He joined local constituents on Friday to meet with staff for Tom McClintock (R-Roseville), Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove), and Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento).
On Monday, delegations also visited the offices of Jerry McNerney (D-Stockton) and Jeff Denham (R-Modesto), while OFMI Advisor Jada Bernard visited Rep. McNerney’s Capitol Hill office on Tuesday. Bernard commented: “I had a pleasant meeting with Silpa Rajan, Congressman McNerney’s foreign affairs aide. To the young staffer, I expressed that HR 417 is America’s opportunity to unify against the injustices in India. Her advice was to contact other congressional offices, which I plan on doing in the upcoming week. I am excited and inspired to continue working in support of the Indian people, and this resolution.”
Constituents from Rep. Denham’s district presented his staff with 339 signatures requesting the congressman co-sponsor HR 417, while 490 signatures were presented to Rep. McNerney’s staff. Among the constituents who visited Rep. McNerney was Bhajan Singh, OFMI’s Founding Director, who said, “People of faith must unite to end oppression everywhere it is found. We are hopeful that California’s congressional delegation will listen to their constituents who are turning out in droves to support HR 417.”
Schwegler, a United States Marine Corps veteran, continued: “Growing any relationship requires accountability, and restraining a friend is sometimes as, if not more, important than offering blind support. This resolution praises what is praiseworthy while encouraging commitment to moral standards acceptable to any civilized people. This is a moral issue, not a partisan one, and anyone who fails to support it is willingly blinded by special interest politics and pay-to-play campaign donations. If our US representatives are committed to friendship with India, how they stand on HR 417 will reveal whether their loyalties lie with justice or with personal ambition.”
The resolution, jointly introduced by Joseph Pitts (R-Philadelphia) and Keith Ellison (D-Minneapolis) on November 18, has strong bipartisan support. It currently has 22 Democrat and 20 Republican co-sponsors, representing nearly ten percent of the U.S. House of Representatives. It is awaiting hearings in the U.S. House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees, both of which it must pass before proceeding to the House floor for a vote.
“This is the strongest mercy plea the United States can currently offer for the liberty of religious minorities in India,” remarked Pieter Singh, an advisor to OFMI who was present at all five congressional visits. “Passing HR 417 means valuing peace and the preservation of human life over political gain, and supporting the resolution is one of the key ways Christians can act to relieve the oppressed.”
HR 417 highlights three specific instances of anti-minority massacres in India for which victims have not received justice — the 1992 Babri Mosque riots, the 2002 Gujarat genocide, and the 2008 Odisha riots. Estimates of India’s Christian population range from 25 to 60 million; violence in Odisha is one of the most recent examples of mass persecution of Indian Christians in which state security forces were complicit.
HR 417 say that “the August 2008 murder of a prominent Hindu leader of Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Odisha sparked a violent campaign against Christians, although Maoist extremists claimed responsibility for the assassination.” As a result, All India Christian Council reports, “640 Christian houses burnt, 54,000 Christians homeless, 70 deaths and another 50 people missing and presumed dead (of these, 6 Protestant pastors and one Catholic priest killed), 18,000 Christians injured, 2 women (including a nun) gang-raped, at least 149 churches destroyed, and 13 Christian schools and colleges damaged.”
The nun who was gang-raped was Sister Meena Lalita Barwa. On August 25, she was assaulted by “a mob of up to 50 men armed with sticks, axes, spades, crowbars, iron rods and sickles” while at a prayer hall. They dragged the nun into the streets. While chanting Hindu slogans and pouring kerosene on a priest they had also seized, the mob began to rape Sister Meena. She was then paraded half-naked past a group of 12 police officers, who “ignored her and talked in a ‘very friendly’ manner to her attackers.”
On January 9, Reuters noted a huge spike in global persecution of Christians, reporting that documented cases of Christians being persecuted for their faith doubled from 2012 to 2013. Human rights groups, the U.S. State Department, and Christian rights groups universally identify India as a particularly dangerous place for Christians. Human Rights Watch reported in 2007: “Right-wing Hindu organizations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal have been promoting anti-Christian propaganda in [Odisha] because they want the state’s Christians, most of them members of tribal groups, to convert to Hinduism.”
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent body of the U.S. State Department, has since 2009 annually placed India on its list of countries which “require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the governments.” In its 2013 report, USCIRF stated: “Justice for past incidents of sectarian violence targeting Muslim, Christians and Sikhs has not been achieved fully. Anti-conversion laws adopted in some states have led to higher incidents of intimidation, harassment and violence against religious minority communities, particularly Christians and Muslims. In addition, rape has become a common feature of communal violence.”
Voice of the Martyrs, a Christian watchdog group, lists India as a “hostile nation” for Christians, stating: “Violence against Christians continues in the form of Bible burnings, destruction of churches and other property, imprisonments, beatings and murders. Attackers are rarely charged. VOM workers say that the biggest persecutor of Christians in India is a militant Hindu group called the RSS, which is modeled after fascism. Its goal is to create a Hindu nation.” World Watch List, an organization ranking persecution of Christians worldwide, places India as 28 out of the 50 most oppressive countries for members of that faith, stating: “Hindu nationalists, who claim that every Indian has to be Hindu, continue to push their ‘Hindutva’ ideology through political parties, such as the BJP, which has strong support in the media…. Pastors are frequently beaten up or killed, church buildings destroyed, and converts forced to flee their homes.”