Re: US Policy on Hindu Nationalist Groups in India and the US
Cc: Honorable Hillary Clinton, incoming Secretary of State
Mr. John Podesta, Ms. Valerie Jarrett, Mr. Peter Rouse, Co-Chairs, Obama-Biden Transition Project
Ms. Sonal Shah, Member, Transition Advisory Board
Dear President-Elect Obama,
As Indian-Americans working for human rights, peace and justice, we are elated with your agenda on civil rights, which includes expanding hate crimes statutes, ending racial profiling, and combating workplace discrimination. And we welcome the diversity of talents in your transition team, including the appointment of several fellow Indian-Americans. As a coalition representing India’s diversity, and committed to promoting the secular and pluralistic nature of its democracy, we are particularly sensitive to the status of Muslim and Christian minorities in India, who have been facing growing hostility from Hindu nationalist groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and their various affiliates, in several states of India.
Unfortunately, every terrorist incident directed against the people of India, like the heinous attack on Mumbai last week, seems to only strengthen the hands of these groups, who relentlessly propagate religious stereotypes and commit violent acts against minority communities with impunity. We are writing to you to share our deep concerns in this regard, before your administration shapes its policy priorities towards India.
The alarming rise of Hindu nationalists and the consequent increase in bigotry, violence, and violations of religious freedom have been extensively documented by human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as well as by the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Reports. To cite just two glaring examples: RSS and VHP led widespread pre-planned attacks against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, ostensibly in ‘reaction’ to the burning of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims in which sixty people died. In the ensuing days, with the full connivance of the state, rampaging mobs gruesomely murdered over 2,000 Muslims, destroyed their businesses, gang-raped women, and expelled thousands of Muslims from their villages. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Gujarat has been widely held responsible for the worst communal violence in post-independent India. Mr. Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister, who scornfully justified the massacres as a “lesson” to the Muslims, has been censured by India’s Supreme Court as a “modern day Nero” and denied entry into the US by the State Department on grounds of “particularly severe violations of religious freedom.”
VHP and its affiliates have been orchestrating a systematic hate campaign for years against India’s tiny Christian minority, in response to what they allege are ‘forced’ religious conversions of Hindus and tribal people, despite the fact that even in states with anti-conversion laws on the book there have been virtually no complaints of coercion. The violence against Christians and their places of worship touched new heights recently, when Hindu militias in the state of Orissa (with a BJP supported government) forcibly evicted thousands of tribal Christians from their villages, molested nuns, targeted pastors/priests, and coerced people to ‘reconvert’ to Hinduism. India’s National Commission for Minorities has indicted the state government for failing to curb the violence.
The central government too has done very little to prevent the spread of anti-Christian violence to other states and has ignored calls for banning the VHP and its violent street militia, the Bajrang Dal. (Members of VHP have been recently accused of terrorist attacks against Muslims in 2006 in the state of Maharashtra and are being investigated by India’s Anti-Terrorist Service, some of whose members lost their lives in the recent Mumbai attack.)
We cite these two examples to underscore the role of the Hindu nationalist groups in endangering human rights and peace in India, through their insidious combination of politics and the threat of violence. When faced with the escalating terrorist attacks from within and outside India, such as the recent carnage in Mumbai, they tend to further target the most vulnerable sections of the minorities. Indeed, the two types of terror seem to constantly feed off each other. The crucial difference, however, is that violence instigated by Hindu nationalist groups against minorities often have not led to fair investigations or justice. As your administration works to strengthen US-India relations and develops strategies to combat terrorism, it is imperative that it exerts all its diplomatic leverage with the Government of India to stem the politics of hatred, through clear signals such as continuing the current policy of denying entry to Mr. Modi.
Our second concern relates to mounting evidence that Hindu nationalist groups have been receiving considerable patronage from certain Indian-American NGOs and related charities in the U.S., ostensibly for legitimate social and educational work, which brings them considerable recognition and support from the community. We are specifically concerned with organizations such as VHP America, India Development and Relief Fund, and Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, all of which claim to be independent of RSS and VHP in India but are indeed connected with them through shared ideology and project partnerships. We urge your administration to closely scrutinize these organizations for their linkages to forces spreading communal hatred and violence in India.
In this context, we would like to bring to your attention the case of Ms. Sonal Shah, whose appointment to the Transition Board was widely applauded by sections of Indian and Indian-American community, but who has been less than candid about her connections with the VHP. We have written a letter to her (attached) seeking answers to a number of questions raised by her recent public statement and are awaiting her response. In the mean time, we sincerely hope that your Transition Board will put in place a process to fully vet all South Asian appointees to the new administration for any direct or indirect association with hate mongering, violence-prone groups; and, if they are found to have had such connections, to restrict their role in any South Asia-related policy matters and as interlocutors of their community (along similar lines as the ethics rules laid out for lobbyists on the team.)
In closing, we would like to reiterate our full support for your plans to enhance equal opportunities at home and to end human rights abuses abroad. And we particularly hope to be of service in your efforts to further strengthen bilateral ties with India by addressing mutual national security goals in a way that safeguards civil liberties, especially those of minorities. We wish you all success in meeting the extraordinary challenges ahead and we look to working with your incoming administration. Sincerely, A Coalition of Concerned Indian-Americans For further information on this letter, please contact: Rasheed Ahmad, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Alex Koshy, email@example.com
Ravi Ravishankar, firstname.lastname@example.org Endorsing Organizations: American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI), Farmington, MI, American Muslim Physicians of Indian Origin (AMPI), IL (http://ampionline.org)· Association of Indian Muslims in America (AIM), Washington DC·Campaign to Stop Funding Hate (CSFH), CA (www.stopfundinghate.org)·Friends of South Asia (FOSA), San Jose, CA (www.friendsofsouthasia.org)· India Foundation, Okemos, MI·Indian Minorities Advocacy Network (ImanNet), New York, Indian Muslim Council (IMC), Morton Grove, IL (www.imc-usa.org)·Indian Muslim Education Foundation of North America (IMEFNA), (http://imefna.org)·Indian Muslim Relief and Charities (IMRC), Palo Alto, CA (http://www.imrc.ws/)· International Service Society, MI, Network of Progressive Muslims, Non-Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India (NRI-SAHI), MI,Sikh American Heritage Organization, Wayne, IL, South Asia Forum, Madison, WI· South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD), Greater Vancouver, Canada (http://sansad.org)· Supporters of Human Rights in India (SHRI), MN, The Coalition for a Secular Democratic India (CSDI), Chicago, IL· Vaishnava Center for Enlightenment, MI, World Tamil Organization, Inc., Cary, NC