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India

Indian Christian leaders concerned over human rights violations

White House meeting between Modi and Obama will embarrass India, they say

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

Updated: June 07, 2016 10:54 AM GMT
Indian Christian leaders concerned over human rights violations

A ucanews.com file photo shows a church vandalized in Kandhamal in the eastern Indian state of Orissa during the anti-Christian riots in 2008. The past year has seen an increase in the number of attacks in India on Christians and Muslims, according to human rights activists.

Indian Christian leaders remain concerned over rights violations as U.S. lawmakers attacked India's human rights record ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the White House.

"Freedom of speech, expression and religion are the basic characters of democracy but unfortunately that is not happening in India," Vijayesh Lal, executive director of Evangelical Fellowship of India, told ucanews.com.

A U.S. congressional committee on human rights is scheduled to meet June 7 to discuss the state of human rights in India, coinciding with the beginning of Modi's three-day visit to the United States.

"It would be very hard for the Indian prime minister to explain the human rights violations in India at a time when he himself has been talking so much about the protection and overall development of minorities," Lal said.

India has come under intense international focus over its treatment of lower caste "untouchables" or Dalits. Although the Constitution has banned the caste system, it remains deeply ingrained within Indian society, leading to ongoing discrimination, advocates said.

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Dalits, which comprise 25 percent of India's 1.2 billion population, are disproportionately at risk of human trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced labor, according to a statement by the congressional commission, reported The Indian Express.

Religious minorities also face growing challenges, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's most recent report. 

"In 2015, religious tolerance deteriorated and religious freedom violations increased in India. Minority communities, especially Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs, experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups," the report said.

The past year has seen an increase in the number of attacks in India on Christians and Muslims under the ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), according to a report compiled by human rights activists.

The Modi-led BJP, which came to power in May 2014 following a landslide election, has been accused by rights activists of trying to turn the country into a Hindu nation with the backing of the hard-line socio-religious Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh organization.

"Whenever the BJP government comes to power, religious bigotry increases, impunity worsens and nonstate actors come into active operation. It has a militant wing that has no regard for the law and has total impunity," John Dayal, a Catholic layleader and member of the National Integration Council, told ucanews.com.

Police also act on behalf of nonstate actors that aggravate the situation drastically, said Dayal, who is also a member of ucanews.com's board of directors and an occasional op-ed contributor.

The U.S. taking up the issue would be an "embarrassment" to India, Dayal said as "the image is not so good."

However, Lal said that it does not matter what Modi has to say about this in the United States as "he is accountable to the people of India and it is here he has to show his commitment."

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