US lawmakers urge Modi to take steps to protect non-Hindu minority communities

WASHINGTON: Nearly three dozen US lawmakers in a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have expressed their deep concern over the increasing intolerance and violence experienced by the country’s minority communities, urging him to take steps to enforce the rule of law and protect communities from religiously motivated harassment and violence.

The letter signed by eight Senators and 26 Congressmen on Feb 25 said that they were particularly concerned over the treatment of India’s Christian, Muslim and Sikh communities.

The US lawmakers drew the attention of the Indian Prime Minister to a resolution passed on June 17, 2014 by more than 50 village councils in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh, banning all “non-Hindu religious propaganda, prayers, and speeches” in their communities.

Similarly, they said the Christian minority community has been dramatically affected as the ban effectively has criminalized the practice of Christianity for an estimated 300 Christian families in the region one day after a mob, which included members of the Vishva Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, seriously injured six Christians in the village of Sirciguda.

“Since the ban was implemented, Christians in the Bastar District reportedly have been subjected to physical assaults, denial of government services, extortion, threats of forced expulsion, denial of access to food and water, and pressure to convert to Hinduism.”

“We also are concerned that the nearly country-wide beef ban is increasing tensions and encouraging vigilante violence against the Indian Muslim community,” the letter stated and pointed to an incident on Nov 2 when a Hindu mob killed Mohammed Hasmat Ali, a married father of three, in Manipur, India, after he was accused of stealing a cow.

The lawmakers said that Mr Ali reportedly was the fourth Muslim murdered in just six weeks by Hindu mobs angered over allegations of cows being slaughtered or stolen. “We understand that the September 28th murder of 52-year-old Mohammed Saif in Uttar Pradesh sparked a national outcry over rising intolerance toward religious minorities which culminated in hundreds of prominent academics, business leaders, and authors protesting.”

The US Senators and Congressmen also raised concern about the lack of recognition of Sikhism as a distinct religion which, the said, prevents members of the community from accessing social services and employment and educational preferences available to other religious communities.

“Sikh community members reportedly are harassed and pressured to reject religious practices and beliefs distinct to Sikhism,” the letter said and recalled that on Oct. 14, security forces killed two Sikhs and injured scores of others in Punjab who were protesting peacefully against the desecration of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhism’s holy book.

Referring to statements by Modi about religious freedom and communal harmony, the lawmakers urged him to “turn these words into action” by publicly condemning the ban on non-Hindu faiths in the Bastar District of Chhattisgarh, and the violent assaults and other forms of harassment against religious minorities throughout India.

“We also urge you to take steps to address the activities of groups, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and instruct Indian security forces to enforce the rule of law and protect religious minority communities from religiously-motivated,” according to the letter.