New Hindu Refugees Bring Human Rights Report Closer to Home

Washington, D.C. (March 30, 2010) - Khem Adhikari arrived to a sparsely furnished apartment in Minneapolis, Minnesota in November 2009, not knowing what he would do, how his family would be fed or clothed, and certainly not how heavy a coat he would need for a very cold winter in the Upper Midwest.  Adhikari and his family are amongst the 60,000 Bhutanese refugees the U.S. government has agreed to resettle over the next several years.  But the prospect of starting over when others his age are mid stride seems daunting. 
 
I t was twenty years ago, when Adhikari found his ancestral home razed to the ground and was then ousted from his native Bhutan after police informed him that his family had fled weeks earlier.  He would join a hundred thousand other fleeing ethnic Nepali Hindu minorities of Bhutan in a squalid refugee camp saddled between Nepal, Bhutan and India. His family, all well educated, were amongst the first to be targeted years earlier by the Bhutanese monarchy for the family's insistence on practicing the religion of their birth, Hinduism, in the wake of Bhutan's Buddhism-first policy.  Boxed into a forgotten no-man's land administered by the International High Commissioner of Refugees (IHCR), Adhikari escaped into India to complete a medical degree before returning to care for fellow refugees in the camps; camps he would serve for the next sixteen years.  Now resettled with his wife, two young sons, elderly parents and younger brother by the IHCR in Minneapolis, Adhikari's arrival focuses attention on an ongoing human rights story detailed in the annual Hindu human rights report released by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) earlier today.
 
The 194 page report, now in its sixth year, entitled Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora, A Survey of Human Rights 2009, is the only such report released internationally.  Censuring eleven countries for either targeting Hindus to further religious and political agendas or failing to ensure equal rights and protections, the report is widely read by government officials and lawmakers here and earned spirited responses and denials from the American embassies of several countries indicted in the past.  
 
"This annual report documents human rights violations of Hindus throughout South Asia and in countries that do not share values of democracy, pluralism and freedom,"  said U.S. Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) after reviewing the Foundation's report.  "By spotlighting which nations do not live up to these standards, nonprofit organizations like HAF stand up for the basic dignity and human rights for all people of faith and for free thought."
 
"Our effort started with the belief that Hindu minorities were silent and unknown victims in Bangladesh, Pakistan and elsewhere, and documenting their realities has grown into a full time endeavor," said Ramesh Rao, Ph.D., the Foundation's human rights researcher and coordinator.  "This year, the arrival of so many Hindu refugees from Bhutan brings a human face to the issues too many encounter simply because of their ethnicity and Hindu faith."
 
Hindus in South Asia and many of the twenty million Hindus living outside of India are subject to discrimination, terror, rape, murder and other forms of violence, forced conversions, ethnic cleansing, and temple destruction the report states.  Foundation leaders announced that a major effort would focus on encouraging lawmakers to tie foreign aid and appropriations to measurable progress on human rights, similar to the effort after the publication of the 2008 HHR report.
 
While Bangladesh saw some improvement last year in the overall rights situation with a significant drop in attacks against its Hindu minority -- even as sixty-seven new attacks were recorded -- Australia appeared on the list for the first time.  The deaths of thirty-three Indians, most of them Hindu, and thousands of attacks over the last five years forced the Government of India to recently condemn the lack of adequate protections and demand from Australian authorities a program of education and strict law enforcement to end these attacks. 
 
Adhirkari is settling into the rhythms of the Twin Cities and celebrating signs of spring signalling an end to the Minnesota winter.  And while the scars from the brutal Bhutanese attacks on his family remain -- belying the Himalayan kingdom's fame as a tranquil Shangri-la -- spring brings hope, Adhikari says.  He imagines a much brighter future for his children and personal struggle in the years ahead as he tries to earn a new medical license and career as a physician here with the dream of practicing his faith in a pluralistic America, a freedom they will never take for granted.