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Hindu American Foundation Appreciates Congressional Hearing On Dalit Rights; Concerned By Biases

Date: October 12, 2005

TAMPA, FL - Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the Committee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, held a hearing on October 6th, 2005, to address alleged human rights violations and discrimination faced by underprivileged castes, commonly referred to as Dalits in India. The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), which supports congressional efforts to document and highlight the denial of human rights abuses of all Hindus in South Asia, expressed special concern that the hearings were deliberately biased and misrepresentative of India and Hinduism. HAF specifically pointed to the slate of witnesses that included individuals widely known for their anti-Hindu activism.

"Holding a hearing ostensibly to bring people together to improve the plight of India's Dalits is a commendable goal," said Mihir Meghani, M.D., President of the Hindu American Foundation. "But to stack the witness chair with delegates with virulent Hinduphobic perspectives that lack any credibility in India or abroad reduces any positive impact such a hearing could have made."

HAF was disappointed that Congressman Smith, while commending the humanitarian work of Christian missionaries, failed to similarly recognize the vast network of Hindu social and charitable organizations working with India's socially and economically deprived populace.

"Caste discrimination is a social evil that must be eradicated, and all faith-based groups, Christian or Hindu, should be congratulated for their dedicated services in India," said Swaminathan Venkataraman, member of the HAF Executive Council, "But those organizations that allow the people among whom they work to maintain and celebrate their native culture and practices without any pressure to convert or renounce their religion deserve special praise."

HAF members said the hearing also failed to address caste discrimination that affects religions other than Hinduism in India, and instead became a forum for anti-Hindu sentiments. Several key speakers at the hearing including Dr. Joseph D'Souza, Dr. Udit Raj, and Dr. Kancha Ilaiah have all overtly called for Hindus to convert to Christianity in the past. D'Souza, who is President of the All India Christian Council (AICC), previously termed the conversion of Hindus to Christianity as, "the process of breaking this spiritual darkness."

Congressman Smith alluded to the ongoing Indian Supreme Court proceedings regarding the granting of special reservations in government and education sectors for Dalits who have converted to Christianity. Ironically, Dalits who convert to Christianity in a bid to escape social stratification under the caste system, continue to agitate for affirmative action benefits even after becoming Christians, thereby demonstrating that the inequalities of the caste system are not specific to Hinduism.

"Though casteism arose from the malpractice of Hinduism, the prevalence of caste discrimination among other religious communities shows that this practice is not rooted in religion but rather a complex dynamic of political, social and cultural interests," said Dr. Meghani. "Therefore, it is imperative that all Americans support measures to redress prevalent discrimination, instead of damaging India's great traditions of pluralism and tolerance with unhelpful calls for Dalits to renounce their faith." Dr. Meghani added, "We hope that Congressman Smith, in the future, will make attempts to further the cause of Dalits with a serious discussion by engaging a broad spectrum of speakers that properly represent the varied perspectives on this issue."