Living without hope: The grim reality for many Hindus worldwide
Washington, D.C. (May 25, 2011) - Former Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Badawi had just finished addressing an audience of activists, community leaders, and scholars at the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis on May 23. As his talk, which extolled what he called religious harmony and co-existence in his country, wrapped up, Prime Minister Badawi was met by Suhag Shukla, Esq., Managing Director and Legal Counsel of the Hindu American Foundation.
"Your description of your country as a pluralistic Islamic democracy is very different than what we are hearing from Hindus living in Malaysia,” Shukla stated. When he solicited examples, Shukla listed cases of Hindu parents losing parental rights when a spouse converts to Islam and native born Hindus and Christians being denied access to jobs and education unless they are Muslim ethnic Malays. “We have been reporting these incidences annually in our Foundation’s human rights report,” she told Mr. Badawi.
According to the Hindu American Foundation (HAF)’s seventh annual human rights report, Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora -- A Survey of Human Rights 2010, the tragic stories of Malaysian Hindus, gang rapes of Hindu girls in Bangladesh, and destroyed Hindu temples in Pakistan comprise a grim reality for many Hindus across the world, including within the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
As in years past, the Foundation’s 2010 report censures eight countries for what it considers rampant human rights violations and discriminatory laws that designate minorities as second class citizens. It expresses continued concern about two other countries where improvement is considered highly unlikely in the near term--Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia--and a third instance of Australia, where acts of omission and commission have made life difficult for Indians and Hindus. Advanced copies of the 2010 report were released to the U.S. State Department and several members of the U.S. Congress late last week.
"I know that the work of the Hindu American Foundation is vital to chronicle the international human rights of Hindus every year,” said U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), founder and former co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. “The 2010 report provides important information to members of Congress, and I look forward to continuing to work with HAF to improve the human rights of Hindus around the world."
In Pakistan, the report detailed an alarming trend of kidnappings, forced conversions of young girls, and deadly attacks on non-Muslims amidst an atmosphere of escalating violence and intolerance. For example, it highlighted the abduction of an 82 year-old Hindu spiritual leader, Maharaj Lakshmi Chand Garji, near Surab in Kalat District of Baluchistan province. Maharaj Garji, who is widely revered by the Hindu community in Balochistan, was blindfolded and confined to a small dark room with his hands bounded for 95 days, before finally being released.
Similarly, despite a slight decrease in the number of attacks in Bangladesh and the government’s expansion of the national Human Rights Commission, Hindus continued to be victims of ethnic cleansing waged by Islamic fundamentalists. Hindus in Bangladesh are subjected to daily acts of murder, rape, kidnapping, temple destruction, and physical intimidation.
"The fact that Hindus and other minorities are routinely denied fundamental human rights and religious liberty in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Malaysia is unconscionable,” said Ramesh Rao, PhD, HAF’s Human Rights Coordinator and author of this year’s report. “The US Government is a major donor and benefactor to many of these countries, and it is absolutely imperative that we leverage this fact to demand accountability and protection of human rights.”
The report further noted a lack of significant progress in resolving the plight of Hindu refugees from the Kashmir Valley in India, as Kashmiri Pandits continued to live in abject conditions in “refugee camps” in the cities of Jammu and New Delhi.
"I applaud the hard work of the Hindu American Foundation in producing their annual Human Rights Report,” stated U.S. Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, after receiving the report. “The first step in addressing the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities is shedding light on these abuses - and the report does just that."
Bhutan, Fiji, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad and Tobago are among the other countries covered in the report, along with the “Hot Spots” of Afghanistan, Australia, and Saudi Arabia.
"I support the Hindu American Foundation’s devoted efforts toward bringing attention to religious freedom across the globe,” said U.S. Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC), member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The annual report will be the basis of discussions with congressional leaders during HAF’s annual visit to Capitol Hill later this fall. The report has been cited as a resource by several U.S. government agencies and added to the library collections on major university campuses.