The Not-So-Tolerant Hindu American Federation Reveals Itself

Apr 17th, 2014 | By | Category: Weekly Washington Updates

By Andrew E. Harrod

“The violence of conversion is very real,” Hindu American Foundation (HAF) Board of Directors member Aseem Shukla wrote in a March 3, 2010, internet article, belying HAF’s self-proclaimed commitment to “pluralism.”  Shukla and HAF’s disturbing views on religious freedom came to the fore during April 4, 2014, congressional hearings (video here) on India’s often imperiled religious minorities before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC).

“The religious conversion is too often a conversion to intolerance,” Shukla elaborated while focused on his ancestral India.

A convert is asked to repudiate his sangha (community), reject the customs and traditions of his family passed down for generations, and refuse to attend religious ceremonies that are the very basis of daily life in much of the world.  A person’s conversion begins a cascade of upheaval that tears apart families, communities and societies creating a political and demographic tinderbox that too often explodes.

For “adherents of the pluralist religions—Dharma religions, paganism and native religious traditions” like the Hindu Shukla the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is “deeply flawed.”  The Declaration’s Article 18 “includes freedom to change…religion” under “freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” resulting according to Shukla in a “very basic asymmetry.”  While “pluralist religious traditions… acknowledge…multiple legitimate religious and spiritual paths” rather than an “exclusive source of Truth,” the “Abrahamic religions…claim exclusivity in their belief system’s legitimacy.”

“Truth is One, but sages call it by various names,” Shukla cites from Hinduism’s Rig Veda.  “Most pluralist religious traditions” accordingly “allow for the assimilation of beliefs and traditions of another religion without demanding repudiation of one’s own.”  Thus the “pluralist would find seeking converts…anathema” while “only Christians and Muslims have a history of displaying an often violent urge to share good news.”  This “renders the pluralist vulnerable to the asymmetric force of the proselytizer” and his “God given mandate” for conversion.

Today “millions of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and indigenous traditions…are the targets of proselytism globally” as the “latest avatar of colonization” in the “previously colonized developing world.”  Additionally, the “Native Americans of the U.S. and Canada, the indigenous progeny of Latin America and Mexico, the Aborigines in Australia are silent witness to lost religions and decimated traditions,” Shukla argued.  A policy brief on HAF’s favored phrase of “Predatory Proselytization” described this “annihilation of more pluralistic peoples” as “religious imperialism and supremacy.”  Conversion campaigns “deny a vast majority of the world’s people respect, dignity, and religious freedom,” the brief elaborated, by, for example, “denigrating other religions to sell the ‘primacy’ of another religion.”

The “most prolific proselytizers today comprise a multi-billion dollar megachurch industry,” Shukla wrote, the “majority of which,” HAF’s policy brief noted, “are funded by American, Australian, and many European faith-based organizations.”  There existed plentiful “testimony of access to education, medical care, employment and other necessities being traded…on the marketplace of religious affiliation,” Shukla stated without documentation.  “Most sinister, of course, is the overt bargaining of disaster supplies.”

Additionally, India’s evangelists “appropriate Hindu modes of worship” with reconfigured songs and prayers.  Alternatively, “[s]preading hate against native religions is perhaps the most vile tactic,” something “blasted” in India by the Catholic Church itself, which criticized Pentecostal opposition to Indian Christian participation in various Hindu festivities.  Proselytization to “emotionally troubled” individuals as well as a supposed imbalance “between white and non-white” people, meanwhile, worried HAF board of director member Padma Kuppa.

As remedy, Shukla cited a 2008 HAF letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Concerned about a “right to retain one’s religion,” HAF recommended changing Article 18 to include a “freedom to retain, adopt or change” religion.  Likewise, an amended first paragraph of Article 18 in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights should reference a “freedom to have, retain or to adopt a religion.”  A significantly expanded second paragraph would preclude “force” and “fraud” along with religious “coercion,” including the “conditioning” of material benefits and “denigration of other religions” such as “hate speech.”

Over 30 Christians were hospitalised following an attack by Hindu extremists, who beat a group of worshippers with iron rods

Over 30 Christians were hospitalized following an attack by Hindu extremists, who beat a group of worshipers with iron rods in March, 2014

Against the “myopic religious worldview” of one faith being true, Aseem’s fellow HAF board member and wife Suhag Shukla supported Indian laws regulating “coerced and mass religious conversions driven by dollar-rich American evangelical churches.”  What groups like the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) “erroneously refer to as ‘anti-conversion laws’,” she argued, actually “protect poor and vulnerable populations from predatory efforts,” according to HAF’s submitted TLHRC testimony.  USCIRF opposition to these laws stemmed in part from the status of Christians as “Religious Freedom’s ‘In’ Crowd” in the USCIRF’s origins and current composition, Suhag wrote.

“Ironically” titled “Freedom of Religion” laws, in the words of USCIRF Vice Chair Katrina Lantos Swett before TLHRC, these “deeply problematic…one-sided” laws regulate only conversion away from Hinduism, according to her written testimony.   Currently encompassing about a third of India’s population in seven states, the “laws require government officials to assess” conversion sincerity, in some cases with “prior notice,” USCIRF’s 2013 report noted.  Fines and imprisonment imposed by the “laws’ ill-defined terminology” concerning fraud and force allows for “abuse by biased officials, police, and societal actors.”

Thus “states with these laws have higher incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence against religious minorities, particularly Christians, than states that do not.”  Despite “incredibly low conviction rates” noted by Swett’s submission, “these laws have fostered a climate of societal impunity against minorities and have led to police harassment.”  Accusations often arise during “disputed issues unrelated to religion,” such as when a Christian addresses a political issue or land dispute.

The discrepancy between USCIRF and HAF, two groups avowedly committed to freedom, appears strange until HAF’s ideology becomes apparent.  As the Coalition against Genocide (CAG) charges, HAF has its origins in supporters of the Hindu supremacist ideology of Hindutva, charges not refuted by HAF’s counter-expose of CAG’s Marxist and Islamist elements.  Sometimes compared with “Islamic Jihadism,” Hindutva groups such as the 1925-founded Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS or National Volunteer Organization) exhibited marked affinities for Fascism and Nazism before World War II.  An RSS member later assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1949 because of his policies seen as too conciliatory towards India’s Muslims. Hindutva followers “loved Hitler” and “hated Gandhi,” All India Christian Council Secretary General John Dayal testified to TLHRC, while Hindutva’s distinction between Indian and “foreign” faiths make Dayal “an alien in my own country.”

HAF support for Hindutva is explicit in the 1998 essay “Hindutva:  The Great Nationalist Ideology” by HAF cofounder Mihir Meghani, available on the website of Hindutva’s political home, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).  Former HAF Executive Council member Ramesh Rao, meanwhile, has defended not only anti-conversion laws but also Indian bans on cow slaughter, measures that deprive non-Hindus of livelihood and nutrition while prohibiting this Hindu sacrilege.  Such Hindu partiality contradicts HAF’s commitment “to ensure the separation of church and state” in the United States expressed by HAF Associate Director of Government Relations Jay Kansara.

Some of HAF’s arguments are deceptive.  Christians evangelize in India “sometimes officially on missionary visas, but often times fraudulently on visitor visas,” HAF has criticized.  Therefore Suhag Shukla speculates about a “Hindu guru from India entering the U.S. under the ‘guise’ of visiting rather than obtaining a religious worker (R-1 visa).”  Yet the R-1 visa is merely a special work visa in no way limiting any visitor’s religious advocacy in the United States.

Violence in India by “two Christian terrorist outfits, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland and the United Liberation Front of Assam,” also receive HAF’s condemnation.  Yet a South Asian terrorist data base describes these groups as “socialist,” not Christian, in ideology, although the former has many members from Christian backgrounds.  HAF also criticized a proposed November 2013 congressional resolution as advocating the “creation of religious minority courts,” but the resolution merely proposed courts under India’s National Commission on Minorities analogous to other Indian agencies.

Thus HAF would seek to protect Hinduism against “Hinduphobia” using tactics of coercion and deception readily familiar to any student of “Islamophobia.”  Undefined ideas of inducement, hate speech, or even emotional trouble will serve to hinder Indian religious conversions away from Hinduism’s absolute relativism.  Indians will then not consider in a free market of faith whether, for example, the “truth, the way, and the life” (John 14:6) actually has a specific name in Jesus, before which someday “every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:10).  Apparently this is necessary to preserve Hinduism as a religious endangered species, revered by Rao as supposedly having allowed for the “existing and prospering cheek by jowl for millennia” of incredibly diverse Indian groups.  According to this halcyon estimation, Hinduism should ultimately not go the way of belief systems like those in the ancient world that have ended on history’s ash heap unmissed.

India’s “long tradition of religious tolerance” received Representative Joseph R. Pitts praise at TLHRC.  Nonetheless, “India has serious human rights and religious rights problems,” Swett and others documented.  Unfortunately, HAF is not going to be part of the solution.

Tags: , , , , ,

Comments are closed.