Indian Christians and Sikhs united last month to urge California Congressmen to support a House resolution that would make human rights and justice for religious minorities a priority in U.S.-India talks.
HR 417 is waiting on hearings in the U.S. House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees, which must approve it before it can come to the House floor for a vote. The annual talks, which President Barack Obama began in 2009, last took place in June 2013.
“This is a particularly concerning issue at the moment because India is going to elect a new prime minister in May,” said Pieter Singh, executive director of Sikh Information Centre and Advisor to the Organization for Minorities of India.
Singh said both candidates, Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, are linked to past attacks on religious minorities, including Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians. Gandhi is the grandson of Indira Gandhi, who led a military assault on the Golden Temple, a Sikh holy place, in 1984. Modi has been accused of being complicit in the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat state, according to Agence France Presse. He is a member of the Bharatiya Janata party, a Hindu nationalist political group.
“This is where religious minorities in India are at the moment,” Singh said. “These two men are fighting to rule India and look at their records.” The union of Christians and Sikhs, was a “natural alliance” given their religious motivation to help the oppressed, he said.
In 2009, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) put India on a “watch list” for its inadequate response to anti-Christian violence in Orissa (now Odisha) in 2008, and the Gujarat killings of Muslims in 2002. In 2013, USCIRF’s annual report placed India in Tier 2 status, noting that Christians, Sikhs, and Muslims said intimidation and harassment had increased, especially in states with laws against “forced” conversions.
William Stark, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for South Asia, said most persecution in India stems from Hindutva, the ideology that to be Indian is to be Hindu and that other faiths are foreign. Authorities said Hindu extremists were part of the group that stabbed a Christian pastor to death on his doorstep in early January, Morning Star News reported.
Hindu extremists use anti-forced conversion laws, which makes it illegal to “induce” someone to convert, to arrest Christians because the interpretation of the word “induce” can include the promise of eternal life, Stark said. In 2013, the Catholic Secular Forum counted 4,000 offenses against Christians, including attacks on clergy and churches.
“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,” Singh said in a statement.