The seemingly routine appointment of the new chairman to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom needs to be explained in the context of the situation to understand why it’s anything but routine.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a government funded agency, defines itself as a group dedicated to defend the universal right to freedom of religion or belief ‘abroad’.
The agency came into existence on 27 January 1998, following the passing of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). It makes foreign officials responsible for ‘severe violations of religious freedom’ ineligible for US visas.
This American entity is not unknown to Indians. Under the garb of religious freedom, they have tried to intervene in the internal affairs of the Indian state. At times, they have even adversely influenced US foreign policy towards India.
The IRFA was the main reason why Prime Minister Narendra Modi, then Gujarat chief minister, was denied a visa to the U.S. in 2005. The USCIRF held Modi responsible for the 2002 Gujarat carnage.
It would also be important to remember USCIRF’s 2015 report, which identified India as a country where intolerance was rising and added to the ‘rising intolerance’ debate in the country. Some important excerpts from the report are:
Despite the country’s status as a pluralistic and secular democracy, India has long struggled to protect minority religious communities or provide justice when crimes occur, which perpetuates a climate of impunity.
Indian Christians, Christian missionary groups and Hindus, who converted to Christianity or another faith have reported more frequent harassment and violence, particularly in states with anti-conversion laws.
The aforementioned observations are clearly one-sided. The burning down of a Delhi church, which captured headlines last year, was found to be caused by a short circuit during lighting of a Christmas tree. The breaking of a window pane by a stone in another church was due to a group of children playing outside. In another case in Vikaspuri, in which a small group of men damaged a church, was revealed to be a drunken dare. The goons were caught on camera and were arrested shortly thereafter by the police.
The 2015 report did not take these findings into consideration, which clearly displays their bias. Surely there were insensitive remarks made by certain figures which could have offended the Christians, but with evangelists like Pat Robertson (a backer of USCIRF)- who constantly castigate other religions and have even termed traditions like ‘yoga’ as being demonic- the United Sates should first castigate them before advising India.
One of the recommendations of the report is worth mentioning:
Urge the central Indian government to press states that have adopted anti-conversion laws to repeal or amend them to conform with internationally-recognised human rights standards; make clear the US opposition to laws that restrict freedom of thought and association.
In the same report the programme of ghar wapsi, where Christians and Muslims were converted to Hinduism, is being criticised. Another display of bias.
Interestingly, it was during that same time the U.S. President Barack Obama spoke on that specific issue, claiming Mahatma Gandhi would have been shocked at the acts of intolerance in a country famed for its diversity.
USCIRF’s focus, unfortunately, doesn’t include other religious communities affected by religious intolerance such as the displaced Hindu pandits from Kashmir.
The Appointment Of Thomas Reese
The Catholic News Agency, on 23 June 2016, announced the appointment of a Jesuit priest father Thomas Reese as chairman of the USCIRF.
Who Are Jesuits?
According to Wikipedia, ‘the Society of Jesus is a male religious congregation of the Catholic church. The members are called Jesuits. The society is engaged in evangelisation and apostolic ministry in 112 nations on six continents.’
The so-called ‘independent, bipartisan USCIRF’ now has a chairman who believes in the ‘superiority’ of his own Christian faith and belongs to an order which is committed to converting people of other faiths to their own.
The Indian ‘Leftist-intelligentsia’ have been quoting the USCIRF report. This is being done to sully India’s reputation as a tolerant and inclusive society – in spite of so many faiths and races living together as one community, for centuries.
The media, at times, has portrayed the USCIRF as a neutral, bi-partisan commission and had taken its report as an important benchmark for the socio-religious scenario in India.
The new chairman of the USCIRF would in all probability be partisan to his own cause. The way in which this appointment is going to adversely affect the India-US relationship, remains to be seen.
Source: Swarajya July 5, 2016. http://swarajyamag.com/world/appointment-of-new-chairman-to-the-united-states-commission-on-international-religious-freedom