Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora:A Survey of Human Rights, 2010 by the Hindu American Foundation.
Summarized by Vera Joschko, Petaling Jaya, 04.08.2011( Taken from JUST Commentary Nov 2011)
This summary is generated out of the Seventh Annual Hindu Human Rights Report assembled by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF). It highlights the human rights conditions in different countries and accentuates the discrimination of Hindus.
Hinduism is one of the oldest surviving religions with its origins tracing back to at least the third millennium BCE. Hindus are pluralistic in their beliefs and accept the myriad means of worship and prayer. Furthermore Hindus, numbering nearly one billion, constitute the third largest religious group in the world.
While focusing in this summary on Hindus outside India one cannot ignore the plight of Hindus in India itself as consequence of the caste system which continues to discriminate and oppress the ‘Dalits’ and other low castes – this is a fact which recently HAF noted in its updated edition of the report (http://www.hafsite.org/media/pr/not-cast-caste-big-picture-and-executive-summary.) Nevertheless there is evidence that some of the twenty million Hindus living outside India have been subjected on occasions to discrimination, violence, forced conversions, socio-political ostracization, disenfranchisement and the demolition of places of worship. In some countries, fundamentalists from other religions advance a discriminatory and non‐inclusive agenda, and promote hatred of religious and ethnic minorities in league with politicians and other government officials.
For a detailed account of events and conditions in various countries I have decided to give a short description of Trinidad and Tobago.
Historically Trinidad and Tobago had an indigenous population with a tradition which was not exposed to the world religions. The emergence of Hinduism in this society is therefore a unique development.
For an overview of the ‘situation in different hotspots’ I also singled out Afghanistan and Australia.
In Afghanistan one can find out how three different existing legal frameworks (International Human Rights, Islamic principles and traditional Afghan law in action) compete with one another and how religion is exploited by the ‘so called government’ for the implementation of political issues.
With Australia a good example is given for a ‘racial overtone’ affecting Asians (in this case: Hindus) which is linked to an ongoing and pervasive xenophobia.
Trinidad and Tobago
The democratic republic of Trinidad and Tobago, which is described as a “plural society” and which constitution legally guarantees the right to equality of treatment and freedom of religious belief, is headed by the first female Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is of Indian and Hindu descent and took office in May 2010. Citizens of Indian descent (approximately 40.3% of the islands’ population), who had been marginalized now look forward to their rightful place in this multi‐ethnic and multi-religious society after nearly six decades of discrimination.
Hindus are still frequently subjected to discrimination, hate speech, acts of violence and faced a multitude of human rights issues, including physical attacks and temple desecration. Furthermore Indo-Trinidadians have been systematically denied government benefits and employment in public sector jobs. Hindu institutions and festivals are subject to acts of violence and are denied equal access to public funds. Discrimination against Hindus is also present in the educational system. In many primary and secondary schools and colleges, Hindu children are prevented from practicing their religion and debarred from wearing Hindu clothing and other symbols. Over and above Hindus fear a systematized attempt of denial in the media. For instance, photographs in tourism brochures depict Trinidad and Tobago as a nation whose population is predominantly of African descent.
The Trinidadian government has repeatedly violated the signed UN Covenants by failing to protect its Hindu and Indian citizens and discriminating against them on ethnic and religious grounds, even though Trinidad’s Constitution provides for “equality before the law” and freedom of religion. Indians and Hindus have, however, faced systematic discrimination and harassment. With the change in government in 2010 and an Indian/Hindu heading the new government, it is expected that pressure will ease on the Indo-Caribbean population. However, it is incumbent upon the government to pay attention to enforcing civil and criminal laws and to protect all citizens. Trinidadian leaders should discourage racial and religious stereotypes, recognize Hindus and Indians as equal partners in the rule and governance of the nation and distance themselves from hatred against Hindus and Hinduism.
Hotspots of Trouble
The unclear situation in Afghanistan is characterized by foreign occupation and also by three different competing laws (the International Human Rights principles, Sharia law (Islamic principles) and the traditional Afghan law in action). For this reason social tensions are rising and make a deep impact on the everyday life of people which is marked by instability and insecurity. And even though Afghanistan is one of the oldest Hindu centres of the world and Afghanistan's constitution grants equal rights to all to practise their religious ceremonies, Hindus still face many problems. For example in February 2001, during the Taliban's reign, Hindus were forced to wear a distinguishing yellow stripe on their arm, similar to the Jews during Hitler’s reign. Furthermore Hindus are not allowed to be in charge of a governmental body or office or even to cremate dead bodies, Hindu-owned land and property has been seized and/or occupied.
Finally, Afghanistan is only one example of religious bigotry and Islamic fundamentalism but it is doubtful that the Hindu minority will survive any longer in Afghanistan. This is ironic because to this day, Indian movies and music are popular in the country. Also, India is the sixth largest foreign aid donor to Afghanistan and Indian companies are rebuilding roads and schools in Afghanistan despite the constant security threats.
It is obvious that Afghanistan’s lawlessness has exacerbated the plight of the Hindus.
The Australian government and society has to concern itself with an ongoing xenophobia which affects people from the Asian region. In January 2010, there were about 70,000 Indian students studying in the country and make up 18% of Australia's total overseas student population, the second-largest group of students after the Chinese. One can hypothesize that the majority of Indian students in Australia are Hindus.
The Victoria Police Commission reported that there were many cases of robbery and assault against Indians – some with fatal consequences.
Another report submitted in early 2010 to the Indian Parliament by the Overseas Indian Ministry said that many of the attacks that the Indian Consulate was aware of had "racial overtones".
Given the fact that international students contribute $13 billion to the Australian economy every year, and Australia stood to lose nearly $70 million because of the attacks against and flight of Indian students, the Indian government and the Australian government sought to repair the damage with ministers traveling to and from to learn the facts and establish goodwill.
Over and above the ongoing public debate pertaining to the Aborigines and the issue of asylum seekers and resettlement programs there is an unsettled and alarmingly xenophobia concerning Indians and Hindus in Australia. This is a challenge which also demands urgent attention through bilateral cooperation.