External Affairs

Urgent Need to Protect Religious Tolerance in India, Says US senator

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington March 1, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington March 1, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

A week before Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to the US, a ranking member of the US Senate’s foreign relations committee, Benjamin Cardin, expressed concerns over religious intolerance, anti-conversion laws, extra-judicial laws and corruption in India, indicating that he will raise these issues directly with Modi in Washington.

Modi will reach the US on June 7 as part of his five-country sojourn. He will address a joint meeting of thew US Congress, at the invitation of House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan.

In answer to a query on why Modi, once a blacklisted pariah who was denied a visa, was now being called to address the US Congress, Cardin said that the relationship between the two countries was “not about one person”. “[The] Prime Minister was not invited to address [a] joint session of Congress because of his name but because of the country he represents. This relationship will continue even after [a] change of administration,” he added.

In the run-up to Modi’s visit, a hearing of the Senate foreign relations committee held on May 24 saw the airing of critical voices, especially on human right issues.

On Wednesday evening, at a public lecture that was followed by a question and answer session, he raised the same topics again. Cardin rejected the contention that talking about religious freedom has cast a shadow ahead of Modi’s trip, asserting that “in raising these issues we [the US] are helping him in dealing with the issue in the domestic environment” and that this was “in context to a relationship that is only getting stronger between two democracies”.

In his speech on the role of good governance in international relations, Cardin asserted that there were multiple concerns in India, ranging from extra-judicial killing, curtailment of religious freedom, anti-conversion laws and violence against women.

Elaborating on his views, Cardin said that the issue of religious freedom was not uniform in the entire country, but more pronounced in certain states.

Referring to a 2015 report by the US Commission for International Religious Freedom on the state of religious minorities in India, Cardin said that anti-conversion laws were being used to infringe on the people’s right to religious freedom. India has refused to accept the findings of that report.

The Democratic junior senator from Maryland said that there was a “greater and urgent need” for action to be taken to protect religious tolerance.

Asked if he will bring up this issue during his meeting with Modi, he replied in the positive. “There will be some meetings that will take place in the Hill. I will be hosting a dinner for the prime minister,” he said.

In answer to a query about the congressional hearing that talked about ‘award wapsi,’ Cardin said, “We were primarily discussing trafficking issues… Senator (John) McCain raised the issue of intolerance… you would have to ask him”.

When posed a question about intolerance also being prevalent in US, he agreed, saying that there was “no question that there have been instances of intolerance in US”.

Cardin felt that India’s model of federalism was a roadblock to meeting the challenge of good governance, stating that “the current federal system in India is challenging the effectiveness of national policies… There are extra-judicial killings in India. It’s different in different areas of the country. That cannot be allowed to continue.”

He dwelled for some time on the condition of women, adding that the treatment of women was a barometer of a country’s progress and that India’s women were vulnerable.

He also raised the topic of human trafficking and noted that India was tier 2 country in the global index on human trafficking. Cardin did, however, acknowledge the proposal by the Indian government for a more stringent law on the matter, and expressed his hope that it would be passed and implemented.

Cardin went on to commend Modi on his hard stance on corruption, but added that more needed to be done. He iterated that corruption leads to violation of human rights and security, robs the economy, and minimises the impact of aid and sustainable development. He pointed out that corruption has also historically lead to political instability and the collapse of governments, citing the examples of Russia and Ukraine.

(With agency inputs)

  • Thrive thrive

    Religious tolerance to be protected..of course. But, is that code for charlatans and fakes pushing their conversion agendas in the poorest and most vulnerable sections of Indian society?
    because, the spread of so-called missionaries who use fear, miracles, magic and deceit to fool gullible Indians into converting to Xtianity is not fiction – it is fact. And no, this is not hatred for another religion, it is indeed a voice raised in concern about the repeated attempts to use wrong methods for conversion.

  • Vidya

    The intellectual world is moving away from religion, but this American is caught in a time wrap of death cult blood sacrifice endorsing primitive religions. Being induced to get shortcircuited from my own spiritual growth by the lure of lucre or vulnerabilty due to ill health is not the Hindu and Indian concept of religious freedom.