Hindu American Foundation Highlights Plight of Hindus in South Asia at Congressional Human Rights Caucus Briefing

Washington, D.C. (July 18, 2007) -- In a first of its kind, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) was invited by the House of Representatives Congressional Human Rights Caucus to testify at a briefing on human rights in South Asia yesterday. The briefing, held at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, was co-sponsored by the Task Force for International Religious Freedom and the India Caucus. The panel discussion was entitled, "Religious Freedom Conditions in South Asia: The Treatment of Religious Minorities."

"Our annual Hindu human rights report is widely seen as a credible resource on a topic often overlooked by many human rights groups and the international press and we have been exploring ways in which we could bring more attention to this urgent situation," said Ishani Chowdhury, the Foundation's Executive Director. "We are pleased that our interactions with the Congressional Human Rights Caucus brought the issue of Hindu human rights to the forefront at this briefing."

Highlighting the plight of Hindus in Afghanistan and India's state of Jammu and Kashmir specifically, Chowdhury urged assembled political leaders, human rights groups, and the media to focus on what she described as the non-proselytizing, peaceful populations of Hindus who are facing persecution and discrimination in South Asia and in other parts of the world. She alluded to the more serious human rights abuses in Bangladesh and Pakistan briefly, as other panelists described conditions in detail in those two countries, and focused on the HAF report's assessment of Hindu human rights in Afghanistan and India's state of Jammu and Kashmir. A full copy of HAF's Executive Director, Ishani Chowdhury's, testimony can be viewed at http://www.hinduamericanfoundation.org/pdf/CHRC_IChowdhury_071707.pdf

"Sadly, with the lack of media attention, documentation by human rights organizations, think tanks or a voice from our leaders, the future of the Hindu populations in many of these countries can be considered tenuous at best," Chowdhury said. "Hindus, as adherents of a tolerant faith that accepts a multiplicity of paths to realizing Truth, carry an important message of pluralism and understanding that is a critical element of the global dialogue today."

Among the panelists were Tad Stahnke, Deputy Director of Policy at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Patricia Carley - Associate Director of Policy at USCIRF, Rosaline Costa of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops of Bangladesh, Angela Wu - International Director at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and Imam Daud Hanif - missionary in charge at the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, USA.

Stahnke, while acknowledging the positive aspects of Bangladesh society -- democracy, active media, and judiciary -- alerted the audience to the extremist Islamist influence on politics and society since the election of the BNP-led government in 2001, and the postponing of general elections which was scheduled to be held in January 2007. He mentioned the attacks on minorities, especially the largest minority -- Hindus, and of the rape, murder, confiscation of land and property, and attack on temples that led USCIRF to declare Bangladesh as a country of particular concern.

Discussing anti-blasphemy laws in Pakistan and anti-conversion laws in India and Sri Lanka, Wu also expressed deep concern at the push by the Organization of the Islamic Conference to have the United Nations pass a resolution urging a global prohibition on the public defamation of religion. Wu urged the U.S. State Department to provide mandatory training to its officers in engaging and negotiating with religious leaders.

Rosaline Costa, a native of Bangladesh, highlighted the demographic trends in Bangladesh which has seen a 219 percent growth in the Muslim population and the "loss" of 20 million members of the minority religions, the majority of them being Hindus. According to Costa, the mass rape and gang rape of women, in front of their male relatives, was a grave human rights abuse that has devastated the Hindu population in particular and minorities in general. Describing increasing attacks also faced by the Christian minority, Costa spoke of gangs of Muslim men forcing Christians either to pay protection money or demand that they give away their daughters. She said she was witness to such events on Bhola island. Costa added that tribal people who mostly follow animistic, Hindu, Buddhist, or Christian traditions were also brutally victimized, subject to gang rapes, evicted from their lands, forcibly converted to Islam, and dropped out of voter lists.

The Hindu American Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3), non-partisan organization, promoting the Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism.