NAPA express solidarity with H.R.-417 introduced in US Congress-Dhoot

Washington D.C.- –North American Punjabi Association (NAPA) which was closely working for introduction of Bill H.R. 417 in U.S.Congress Expressed its solidarity today   with a U.S. House resolution which makes religious freedom and human rights issues the focus of American talks with India. While disclosing here today Dalwinder Singh Dhoot Chairman of NAPA said that we are persuaded of the importance of House Resolution 417 (known hereafter as H.Res. 417) because it will equitably uplift people of all faiths, while specifically calling for justice for minority communities victimized by religiously-motivated violence In India. He said that House Resolution 417 is a golden opportunity for Sikh Americans to address longstanding issues of human rights in a peaceful, democratic manner. It uplifts Sikhs in several specific ways. It references reports from Sikh communities of “an increase in religiously motivated harassment and violence over the last several years,” and six out of ten of the resolutions with which it concludes directly help Sikhs. In particular, the second point, which is the crux of the entire resolution, has a huge impact on the Sikh community because it would require the United States to make religious freedom and human rights issues an inseparable part of formal dialogue with India. Secondarily, point 6 affects the Sikhs by urging India to increase training on human rights and religious freedom standards and practices for police and the judiciary, especially in states (like Punjab) with a history of communal violence. Point 7 is also a great help to Sikhs, as it recommends the repeal of tyrannical anti-conversion laws which deny religious freedom by forbidding people to convert from Hinduism to any other religion (including Sikhi) without first receiving government permission and undergoing a waiting period.

 Dhoot added that a central argument of NAPA endorsement is the resolution’s call for repeal of Indian anti-conversion laws, which, as the letter states, criminalize individual conversion away from Hinduism without receiving prior government permission and undergoing a waiting period. He said that Freedom of religion is the cornerstone of every civilized society and that interjecting the state as a mediator between a person and his or her religious convictions constitutes a denial of religious freedom. One such law, the Gujarat Religious Freedom Act of 2003, requires people to report to the state 30 days before undergoing a conversion ceremony such as baptism, which groups  “These Orwellian laws are named the exact opposite of what they do, which is to deny freedom of religion by preventing people from converting from one faith to another without the interference of others, remarked NAPA Chairman Dalwinder Singh Dhoot .He said Laws criminalizing free conversion are anathema to a civilized society, and in India they hurt not just Christians, but Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, and really everyone. Only Hindus are exempt and no one converting to Hinduism is required to report to the state. Such laws are unjust, inequitable, prejudiced, and a danger to all humanity. We are deeply grateful to all the law makers for recognizing how important House Resolution 417 is to addressing this problem.

NAPA officials said with information about their solution, which was introduced in November 2013 and currently awaits hearings in the U.S. House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees.

Dhoot said although the laws are called “Freedom of Religion” laws, United Nations officials consider them the chief impediment to freedom of religion in India. For instance, Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN’s special reporter on freedom of religion or belief, said in March 2014: “Secularism has come under threat in India. Apart from communal violence, the main point that ranks the highest is anti-conversion laws.” Referencing the massacre of Christians in the State of Odisha in 2008 and the massacre of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, Bielefeldt stated: “The acts of violence are part of a broader pattern of instigating fear into the minorities, sending them a message they don’t belong to this country unless they either keep at the margins or turn to Hinduism.”

House Resolution 417 specifically cites the massacres in Odisha and Gujarat as reasons why the U.S. should highlight religious freedom and human rights issues in talks with India. The resolution also commends the U.S. State Department for barring Narendra Modi from entering the U.S. in 2005 under a provision of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 which forbids entry of non-U.S. citizens who may be “responsible for or directly carried out … particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” Modi, as reported in 2012 by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, is the only person ever excluded from entry under this provision “due to his complicity in the 2002 riots that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,100 to 2,000 Muslims.”

NAPA Chairman noted that Narendra Modi has targeted Sikh farmers in Gujarat by dispossessing them of land and evicting them from the state. We endorse passage of H.Res. 417 by the U.S. Congress for the sake of the lives and liberty of all people of faith. We also urgently encourage all other interfaith bodies to consider adopting a similar stance in support of H.Res. 417.”

The resolution currently has 25 Democrats and 24 Republicans as co-sponsors and is endorsed by Christian, Muslim, and Sikh communities throughout the United States.

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