Got news? Religious freedom and India

indian20churches_p923123As you would imagine, I have — since my return from Bangalore and New Delhi — been especially sensitive to news reports with India datelines. At the same time, I am always interested in coverage of human rights issues, especially those linked to religious freedom and the rights of minority groups. Call me an old-fashioned liberal.

Thus, this news report caught my eye. We’ll discuss the source in a moment. For now, just read the exerpt:

India has rebuffed a U.S. government watchdog group tasked with monitoring religious liberty abroad by denying entry visas for the group’s planned visit.

A delegation from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom intended to discuss conditions with officials in India, which has seen recent outbreaks of violence against religious minorities, especially Christians. The Indian embassy in Washington did not deliver the visas necessary for the delegation’s June 12 departure, however, and has not offered any official explanation for the decision. …

India is the only democracy to have blocked a visit by USCIRF, which had been requesting entry since 2001. More than 20 other countries, including Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia, have allowed the commission to enter.

Now, this is amazing, even stunning news. It is, of course, linked the controversial 2007 riots in the state of Orissa. Click here for some GetReligion material on that, including a New York Times report that drew protests from Hindu groups.

So why were the visas denied?

The Times of India reported June 17 that prominent Hindu leader Shankaracharya Jayendra Sarawati had demanded that USCIRF not be allowed into the country, labeling the organization an “intrusive mechanism of a foreign government which is interfering with the internal affairs of India.”

The American branch of the Hindu World Council also had bristled at the idea of a USCIRF visit to India, calling it “incomprehensible” and accusing the United States of lumping India, whose constitution guarantees freedom of religion, with countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Cuba.

Now, if you search Google news for the terms “religious,” “freedom,” “India” and “visas” you will find quite a bit of coverage of this. After all, there is all kinds of on-the-record material available about this shocking turn of events, both here in the United States and, obviously, in mainstream news in India.

But when you get your Google results, you will notice that all of the coverage is on the other side of the world, when it comes to mainstream media. And here in America, this seems to be another one of those strange cases where human-rights issues linked to religion somehow fall into that strange nowhere land called “conservative news.”

The report quoted above, after all, is of a major U.S. government agency. But the report comes from Baptist Press.

Did I miss mainstream coverage elsewhere?

Just asking.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • thomas hendricks

    India displays a marvelous talent of displaying exactly the behavior they condemn and then rejecting any examination of such conduct. The country which rejects examination of their religious bigotry is the same country that condemns people being governed by an outside body without their consent, but sent in their army rather than giving Goa the right to vote on who should rule it, and maintains an army of occupation in Kashmir.

    • Guest

      Stop spreading lies. Goa is attached to Indian subcontinent and has been a part of INDIA for millenia and same is true with Kashmir. The Portuguese occupation of Goa and subjugation of the native Hindu population is one of the most brutal and barbaric chapters in the history of India. Europeans are an occupying power in Indian subcontinent and they were soundly kicked out for the good. Everyone knows who is the oppressor in India’s history. Do you see any Hindu rulers ruling parts of Europe or Middle East? No? The reason is Indians and Hindus in particular never wanted to convert non believers by force like Islam and Christianity.

      • wlinden

        “Goa is attached to Indian subcontinent”

        And Scotland is attached to the island of Britain. I doubt many Scots will be impressed by that.

        • Guest

          Looks like you did not read anything after that line. The fact is that native Goan population does not identify with Portuguese culture nor does a majority practice Christianity. Hindus are 66% of the population and most of the Christians are recent converts.

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  • A’ishah Meghan Hils

    The problem with India is that the majority of their political abuses, bombings, riots, etc. involve and are perpetrated by Hindus and Sikhs, particularly Hindu “extremists,” who are extremely well-represented in the government. They do have some issues with bombings by “radical” Muslims but those are few and far between, really, compared to the violence the country has experienced since before Independence due to “radical” Hinduism. Foreign media generally has issues with defining and representing Islam, let alone Hinduism, a religion that is seen as far more bizarre and exotic. And Hindu “extremists” are mainly concerned with taking over India, which doesn’t really sell papers. Like conflicts in Kenya and Rwanda, actually learning which group is killing which and how it got that way doesn’t fit neatly into a sound bite.

    • piyu2cool

      What a blatant lie. Shame on you for spreading propaganda. India is is of the most tolerant and peaceful countries in the world. It is home to all major religions in the world and only country which never persecuted the Jews. Catholics came to India as Jesus’s disciples and settled down and flourished in South India. Christians were never persecuted. Islam came to subcontinent as a political movement and spread like a virus. Radical Islam got mixed with India’s pluralist traditions and what we see today in the subcontinent is a softer, less violent version of Islam. Both of these Abrahmic religions are keen on converting non believers while Hinduism is not an organized religion and does not believe in conversions. Population of Hindus has shrunk in fact in neighboring Pakistan from 22% to 2% while Muslim and Christian population has increased in India. India’s most powerful woman Sonia Gandhi is a christian and so are many heads of states. India’s north eastern states are predominantly Christian. Next time, visit the country, learn about the culture and then comment.

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