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US lawmakers laud Hindu foundation report

July 11, 2007 11:58 IST

The third annual human rights report of the Hindu American Foundation -- the leading US-based Hindu human rights group made of up largely second-generation Indian-American professionals including physicians and lawyers -- was released in Washington, DC on Wednesday.

The report has been lauded by a cross section of US lawmakers, academics and non-governmental organisations for its sustained effort to alleviate the lot of Hindu minorities in several countries in South and Central Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean.

The 2006 Hindu Human Rights Report titled 'Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights 2006', that runs into more than 200 pages, documents abuses against Hindus in 11 countries and regions and is prefaced by a detailed executive summary that provides specific recommendations that HAF is proposing to improve the human rights situation in each of these countries and regions.

The countries and regions that came in for censure for the most blatant human rights abuses against minority Hindus were Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, Jammu and Kashmir, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Endorsements of the report, besides lawmakers and academics, also ranged from organisations such as the B'nai Brith International to the Human Rights First Society of Saudi Arabia.

As in years past, the chairs of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans and other members of Congress reviewed the pre-release version of the report, and Congressman Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican and co-chair of the India Caucus, said, "Human rights abuses must be taken seriously, and this survey provides valuable information to keep my colleagues and me informed about unfortunate threats against Hindus around the world."

Senator Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, in commending HAF for publishing what he described as "this critical report," said that it "demonstrates how much work must be done in combating human rights violations against Hindus worldwide."

Brown, who, five years ago, while he was a member of the House of Representatives, was the driving force behind getting the administration to acknowledge the human rights abuses against Hindu Kashmir Pandits that resulted in the US Department of State including the plight of the Pandits in its annual country reports of human rights violations, worldwide, said, "By bringing these abuses into the light of the day, the Hindu American Foundation is leading the fight for international policies that promote tolerance and understanding of Hindu beliefs and bring an end to religious percecution."

His sentiments were echoed by Congressmen Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat and founder and former co-chair of the India Caucus and Joe Crowley, New York Democrat and former co-chair of the India Caucus.

Pallone said, "Freedom of religion and expression are two of the most fundamental human rights, and as the founder and former co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India, I commend the important work that Hindu American Foundation does to help end the campaign of violence against Hindus in South Asia."

He said that HAF's 2006 report "is a valuable resource that helps to raise global awareness of these abuses while also identifying the key areas that need our attention."

Crowley too talked about that "a critical resource" the report was "in documenting human rights violations in South Asia, as well as other parts of the world," and pledged to work with HAF "by informing my colleagues in Congress of the findings of this report."

Congressman Pete Stark, California Democrat, while commending the report, bemoaned that "the widespread violations that occur are mostly ignored by the American media and government," and also said he was committed to working together with HAF "in the future on behalf of the Hindu-American community and Hindus around the world."

This week, both the India Caucus and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus are scheduled to hold a hearing on the report with several of the HAF hierarchy slated to testify.

As in past years, Bangladesh came in for the most amount of censure in the report for egregious violations with 461 documented acts of murder, rape, arson, temple desecrations and other atrocities.

The report said that while the departure of the previous Khaleda Zia government with its Islamist alliance "has brought new hope to Bangladesh, and an interim government in Fiji may also benefit Hindus in the Republic of Fiji, the need for sustained vigilance" was imperative in these and the other nine countries and regions "where Hindus have faced discrimination and have had their rights curtailed."

Ramesh Rao, executive council member of HAF, and the primary author of the report, said, "From three countries that we covered two years ago, to 11 this year, HAF's annual exercise in documenting human rights abuse is continually expanding."

"The countries covered in this report are not rank-ordered in terms of level of discrimination and human rights abuse, nor does it mean that each of the 11 are abusers of human rights to the same extent," he said.

"What is important in the report is the careful documentation of attacks against Hindus, Hindu institutions, and Hindu places of worship -- providing a unique record of human rights abuse that other human rights agencies either gloss over or report only in general terms," Rao added.

Dr Mihir Meghani, president of HAF, said, "As a fairly young organisation, dedicated to the cause of human rights, our annual reports are carefully written by dedicated volunteers who bring their diverse skills to bear upon the final product."

Meghani, a physician based in California, said, "A number of groups and individual human rights activists in different parts of the world provide us the data and information that form the bulk of the report."

He made clear that "compiling the report is not a political or ideological exercise, nor is it an orchestrated blame game. Instead, we hope to shed light on the plight of Hindus and Hindu institutions in various parts of the world, who have no aggressive agendas of conquest or conversion, and who are good and productive citizens of their nations."

Ishani Chowdhury, executive director of HAF, based in Washington,DC, said, "As a Hindu and a Bengali, I want the world to know the fate of my fellow Hindu Bengalis in Bangladesh. It seems as if the world does not care about the daily acts of violence against Hindus in Bangladesh."

"There were 461 acts of murder, rape, kidnappings, temple destruction, and land grab targeting Hindus in 2006, and that is only in nine months of the year for which data is available," she said.

"Nearly 1.2 million of the 2.7 million Hindu households in the country have been affected by the Enemy Property Act of 1965 and its post-independence version, the Vested Property Act of 1974," she said.

"Individuals with direct ties to the Bangladesh National Party-Islamist Party alliance in power between 2001 and 2006 were beneficiaries of over 46 percent of lands confiscated from Hindus under this draconian Vested Property Act," Chowdhury added.

Chowdhury said that while Hindus constituted 30 per cent of the population of Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, in 1947, "Now they make up for only nine per cent of the population. We at HAF wish to bring this to the notice of the world, even at this very late hour."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC