October 27, 2014 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
Elk Grove, CA: The influence of the Indian government on the policies of Congressman Ami Bera is becoming an inescapable theme in his bid for a second term representing California’s 7th Congressional District, which covers eastern Sacramento County.
On Tuesday, October 28, at 10am, the American Religious Freedom Coalition (ARFC) will hold a press conference outside Bera’s district office in Rancho Cordova to comment on the congressman’s connection to the fragile situation of Christians in India.
Mohan Ram Paul, a community organizer and member of the coalition, explained: “Bera is a politician who has chosen to deny the values of religious freedom by partnering with Christian killers after ignoring repeated warnings from his American constituency about persecution facing people of faith in India. Our message to him on Tuesday, a week before the election, will be simple. We support you if you stand solid with persecuted Christians, but if you partner with their persecutors, we will do everything possible to run you out of office.”
Under fire is Bera’s human rights stance, particularly his connection to the new Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, which ARFC organizers describe as a “cozy relationship with the Butcher of Gujarat.” Modi earned the nickname in 2002 after members of his political party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), massacred thousands of Muslims in the streets of Gujarat soon after Modi was first elected Chief Minister of the western Indian state. Subsequently, in 2005, the U.S. State Department denied Modi a visa under Section 212 (a)(2)(g) of the “Immigration and Nationality Act,” which makes any foreign government official responsible for having “directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religions freedom” ineligible to enter the United States.
“Modi built his career on the corpses of minorities who got in the way of his vision of turning India into a Hindu nation, and Ami Bera is his biggest advocate in the U.S. Congress,” remarked area resident Anthony Birju. He pointed to Bera’s July 2014 attempt to allow Modi to address a Joint Session of Congress by leading 83 representatives in sending a letter to House leadership. The letter cites shared “core values” like “religious pluralism” and “peace and security” as reasons to honor Modi with such an invitation.
The joint session never took place, but thanks to advocacy from politicians like Bera, Modi’s travel ban was lifted. When Modi appeared alongside Bera in New York City on September 28, Bera declared: “I thank Mr. Modi for his inspirational words and for the vision he laid out today. I look forward to continuing to work together.”
Bera opponents says Modi bears responsibility for rising persecution of Christians in India, which watchdog group Voice of the Martyrs categorizes as a “restricted nation.” In 2003, Modi passed a law in Gujarat criminalizing conversion away from Hinduism (without first receiving government permission and undergoing a waiting period); six Indian states, in total, have similar laws. Christians face more than just laws, however; in 2008, BJP activists again took to the streets to perpetrate genocide against Christians in the eastern Indian state of Odisha.
Witnesses reported BJP activists chanted “kill Christians and destroy their institutions” as they gang-raped nuns, burned people alive, and torched churches and Christian-owned homes in full view of the police. Amnesty International reported in 2010: “Judicial inquiries into the violence remained incomplete and the authorities failed to press charges against the majority of attackers.” Yet in April 2014, when asked at a campaign event what he will do to stop violence against Christians as Prime Minister, Modi replied: “I have never heard of such incidents taking place.”
Organizers from ARFC are concerned persecution against Christians and other Indian minorities may soon expand under Prime Minister Modi, noting that BJP senior leader Venkaiah Naidu promised in 2013 that the BJP will introduce a national law criminalizing conversion to Christianity. Watchdog groups like International Christian Concern share these concerns, warning in September: “Like Christians facing ISIS in Iraq, millions of Christians across India are facing persecution at the hands of radical Hindu nationalist groups…. This difficult situation will likely only get worse, as radical Hindu nationalist groups popping up across India have been given almost complete impunity under the new Hindu nationalist government led by BJP and Narendra Modi.”
According to news reports by watchdog group International Christian Concern, constituents visited Bera’s office in January to seek his support for House Resolution 417 which, if passed, recommends religious freedom and human rights issues take priority in formal dialogues with the Indian government. Additionally, the resolution commends the U.S. government for denying Modi entry to the country in 2005. Regional support for the resolution grew in May with a public endorsement of H. Res. 417 by the Interfaith Council of Greater Sacramento, who called on local U.S. representatives to back it in support of religious freedom. ARFC organizers say Bera’s office ignored this and all other overtures from his constituency.
“There is no more anti-American act than betraying the freedom of religion,” stated Bhajan Singh, a director of the Sacramento-based human rights advocate Organization for Minorities of India. “Bera has planted his flag firmly in the camp of those who reject our God-given liberty to choose, change, and spread our faith. He turned a deaf ear to the pleas of his constituents because he thinks his political bread is buttered by siding with foreign politicians who sponsor genocide against people of faith. That is a meal we simply will not swallow, so I hope all principled people will join us outside Bera’s Rancho Cordova office on October 28 to tell him political profiteering on the persecution of Christians and other minorities is wrong.”
About American Religious Freedom Coalition: ARFC is an effort to preserve individual liberty to choose one’s faith, change one’s faith, and spread one’s faith. An interfaith coalition, it formed in Winter 2013. Our first project was an advocacy campaign to support House Resolution 417, a pending congressional resolution to speak in defense of persecuted minorities in India.
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