India doesn’t need to take any lectures on religious freedom from the UK

When was the last time the Indian Parliament debated anything related to the internal affairs of an alien nation? Forget alien nation, the record of nearly 20-plus years shows that our political parties are busy pulling each other down in Parliamentary debates and very few, if any of these debates have been about or in the Indian national interest or how to protect and defend it at all times in various spheres of activity on the global stage.

Is it perhaps this that gives a license to alien nations to have all sorts of debates about India with India issuing no rebuke or response to such “debates”?

It is also this that gives a meddling body like the USCIRF to pronounce pompous judgements about religious freedom in various nations including India. In the specific case of the USCIRF, India to its credit, has consistently shown it its place. However, India was unable to question or reprimand some Indians who flew all the way to the US to testify in the USCIRF’s Kangaroo court about matters purely internal to India.

The latest in this line of prying in India’s internal affairs comes in the form of the 17 March 2016 UK House of Lords debate, the gist of which is this: since the time Narendra Modi became India’s Prime Minister, there has been a marked increase in violence against minorities of all hues, freedom of expression of writers and artists have been threatened, there is all-round intolerance, and the BJP and its affiliates are making India “more Hindu” (whatever that means).

None of this is new. Indeed, these are but mere outward manifestations of a discourse that was set in motion originally by the Communists whose antipathy towards anything Hindu or nationalistic is well-known and well-documented. Equally well-documented is the fact that this sort of discourse seeks to drive a wedge between various sections of India—both religious and social. It thus stands to reason that any party or organisation that has the Indian national interest in mind is met with fierce and vicious resistance and slander from the purveyors of the aforementioned discourse.

The 17 March debate in the House of Lords on religious freedom in India was first initiated by Lord Singh of Wimbledon and endorsed by Baroness Berridge, Lord Hussain, Lord (Bishop) Harries, and Lord Ahmed.

Lord Singh, a native of Rawalpindi and a long time British citizen (his parents migrated to the UK in 1933) is recognised widely as a prominent voice of the Sikhs in England. From his presentation in the House of Lords debate, it’s quite clear that he harbours irrational animus against Hindu groups, dubbing everybody in the “extremist” bracket, and blames them for every real and imagined wrongs done against the Sikhs in India.

While his concern for Sikhs is admirable and genuine, he errs on the basics of his own faith and history when he claims that

Today, the pressure on Sikhs is more subtle but perhaps even more serious. It is nothing less than an attempt to dilute Sikh identity and absorb the community into the Hindu fold…India’s constitution in which Sikhs are—without their consent—described as a subset of Hinduism…Sikhs are also frequently shown participating in Hindu religious ceremonies involving idol worship, contrary to Sikh teachings.

The first Sikh Guru, Nanak followed the path of the earlier Bhakti saints and continued the practice of chanting the name of the Divine, “Rama Nama” either mentally or orally or both.

Writing in A Secular Agenda, Arun Shourie notes that the Granth Sahib

“invokes the name of Krishna ten thousand times, of Rama two thousand four hundred times. It invokes Parabrahma 550 times, Omkar 400 times. It invokes the authority of the Vedas, Puranas, Smritis about 350 times. The names of the Nirguna Absolute – Jagdish, Nirankar, Niranjan, Atma, Paramatma, Parmeshwar, Antaryami, Kartar – are invoked twenty six hundred times. Those of Saguna deity – Gobind, Murari, Madhav, Saligram, Vishnu, Sarangpani, Mukund, Thakur, Damodar, Vasudev, Mohan, Banwari, Madhusudan, Keshav, Chaturbhuj, etc, - are invoked two thousand times” and how Guru Tegh Bahadur was “executed explicitly for his defence of the Hindus of Kashmir, he is executed in the company of his Hindu devotees. Guru Gobind Singh composes a paean to Rama – Ramavatara – and another to Krishna – Krishnavatara.”

Here is what Guru Gobind Singh also declares:

Sakal jagat mein khalsa panth gaaje
Jage dharma Hindu, sakal bhand bhaje

Let the path of the pure prevail all over the world
Let the Hindu dharma dawn and all delusion disappear.

This apart, here is what Maharaja Ranjit Singh who founded the greatest Sikh empire and carved out a separate Sikh state did:
- He paid homage to Brahmins
- He made cow slaughter a capital offence
- He gave three times more gold to the Kashi Vishwanath temple than to the Har Mandir in Amritsar

By today’s Communist-Left-Liberal standards, and by Lord Singh’s own pronouncements, these Sikh Gurus and Ranjit Singh will qualify as Hindu extremists or variations thereof.

It therefore behooves the good Lord Singh of Wimbledon to state the basis of his claims. I would point him gently to the classic Hindu-Sikh Relationship by Ram Swarup.

Sikhism as a subset of Hinduism doesn’t mean that its identity is or will be subsumed by Hinduism. It is as much a subset as any of the numerous panths, margas, sampradayas, etc which have independent standing the proof of which lies in the enormous numbers of adherents each of these command even today.

And then Lord Singh goes on at some length to cite examples of how minorities in India under the Modi government are being persecuted, feeling insecure etc, by quoting instances of Church attacks and quotes the selfsame USCIRF “report” on religious freedom in India!

As to the Church attacks, they have been shown to be the handiwork of thieves and vandals and in one case, an employee who stole some money. The Indian media which reported these incidents as the work of “Hindu extremists” stood exposed once again for its dubious journalism.

Let’s now examine what Baroness Berridge says in the debate.

The predominant religion of the Commonwealth is Hinduism, a fact which derives directly from India’s membership. The Commonwealth’s second most widespread religion, Islam, is also well represented in India with 172 million people… By 2050 India is predicted to have the largest Muslim population in the world. India currently has the world’s largest populations of Sikhs, Jains, and Zoroastrians, as well as substantial numbers of Christians and Buddhists and people of no religion at all. India has more people who are not Hindus—a quarter of a billion—than most countries have people. India’s religious diversity has always been part of its national identity and history.

Given all this, it is defies logic how this Baroness doesn’t mention the fact that it is the all-accommodating nature of India’s majority religionists, the Hindus, who continue to allow and grant this freedom to these faiths. Historically, adherents of every persecuted religion on the planet found safe harbour in India be it the Jews or Zoroastrians.


Prime Minister Modi in the UK Parliament's House of Lords. AFP

We also need to face the other uncomfortable historical truth that alien Muslim invasions since the 8th century and subsequent Muslim rule for about 800 years wreaked havoc on the native Hindu population, tradition, temples, and way of life. The Hindu response was one of resistance, reclamation, but most importantly, toleration and digestion of such sustained attacks over this prolonged period. Other countries have erupted in bloody wars and splintered for far less severe reasons.

Yet the learned Lord Singh finds it prudent to blame the current Indian government “to make India more Hindu.”

Now, there’s no other way to say this: Lord Singh for all purposes is a British citizen and a Lord and reports to Her Majesty the Queen of England. While this is not to take away from his concern for Sikhs, it stands to reason that he cannot speak for the Sikhs in India much less comment on religious freedom in India. It is purely a matter internal to India, which has enough checks and balances and systems to deal with such issues. He also cannot invoke the cloak of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights to condemn and/or interfere in India’s affairs or to demonise Hindu groups who have mostly been maligned unfairly. Here’s a question: why has no Human Rights or other similar body sought justice for the 59 Hindu pilgrims roasted alive in a train coach and for the 254 Hindus who died in the Gujarat 2002 riots?

Lord Singh, in his closing remarks claims

Today I appeal to our Government to move from the usual anodyne comment that we take human rights very seriously… in giving a more robust condemnation to attacks on freedom of worship and human rights abuse, regardless of the country in which it occurs.

In which case, Lord Singh first needs to look in his own backyard where people of his own community are attacked by Muslim extremists and are targets of racism.

We can begin with this 2015 The Telegraph report:

British Sikhs are often the silent victims of any backlash against Islamic extremism…Last month, during heighted community tensions post-Charlie Hebdo, a Sikh was attacked with a machete in a Tesco store in Wales, sustaining what police described as “life-changing injuries.” The attacker was reported to shout “white power.” … The first person to be murdered after the terror attacks in New York was a Sikh, and the first place to be attacked after 7/7 was a gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Kent. In 2012, there was a mass shooting of worshippers at a gurdwara in Wisconsin by a "white supremacist".

Or perhaps Lord Singh is unaware of the extensive research done by the UK Sikh community on how a significant number of Sikh girls have become targets of Love Jihad. Or of this incident where a Sikh man was burned alive in an arson attack.

May we also draw Lord Singh’s attention to the reasons for which a book like Londonistan gets written or the fact that 800 UK Muslims have travelled to fight for the ISIS or to his own Government’s 2011 report which identified 40 UK universities as the “breeding grounds for terror?” Or to that gut-wrenching expose of the grooming of more than 1400 non-Muslim minor girls as sex slaves to “service” radical Islamists in Rotherham.

One can go on and on about the real, appalling problems confronting England but these samples should suffice. And in each of these cases, the response of the British Government has ranged from whitewashing, political correctness, evasion, silence and denial.

Lord Singh therefore needs to first adhere to the timeless dictum of a physician first healing himself before pointing fingers at the real or manufactured problems of other nations.

Towards the end of the House of Lords debate, the Earl of Courtown claims that “The relationship between the United Kingdom and India is a partnership of equals.”

Which is interesting and amusing. This relationship was never one of equals neither in the past, when their traders came to India as supplicants to be allowed to trade, and later realised that they were superior because of their skin colour, which justified the oppression and plunder of India. Today, England is a struggling nation, far gone in dealing with immigration, terror cells, soaring crime, rapidly falling educational standards, and jihadism. It has been reduced to a country that largely survives by playing handmaiden to the US.

It’s clear that the UK needs India more than India needs it. The kind of response that Prime Minister Narendra Modi received during his UK visit in November 2015 is just the latest proof of this fact.

India doesn’t need to take any lectures on religious freedom from such a nation. What India should do instead is to respond to such House of Lords adventures strongly and ensure that repeat attempts are not made. The US shows the way on how to do this. When Tehelka published a 20-plus-page investigative report on the George Bush government’s covert support for evangelism in India in 2004, the press attache at the American embassy in Delhi immediately wrote a letter rebuking Tehelka thus: “I hope that in future issues Tehelka will take time to ensure that its material is not only ‘free and fairless’ but also responsible and objective.”

That is the mark of a nation which takes itself seriously and ensures that others do, too.

Updated Date: Apr 11, 2016 07:36 AM

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