There is religious harmony in India: USCIRF commissioner

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There is religious harmony in India: USCIRF commissioner

Washington, Apr 26 (PTI) There is religious harmony among different faiths in India overall, a commissioner of USCIRF said today, contradicting the independent bipartisan American body’s claims that religious tolerance and religious freedom conditions “continued to deteriorate” in India in 2016.

The dissenting statement on India comes from Tenzin Dorjee, a commissioner of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

Dorjee, the first Tibetan to be a USCIRF commissioner, opposed the decision to place India in Tier-2 countries’ list.

Such a statement coming from a USCIRF member along with its annual report on international religious freedom is quite significant, given that in the past its Commissioners have been quite harsh on India, which is the birth place and home to major religions of the world.

“Overall, I have observed and experienced religious harmony among faiths in India,” Dorjee said in a statement that came along with the report.

This is for the first time that a USCIRF Commissioner has issued a statement differing with its views on India.

“The purpose of writing these brief comments is to share my perspective of having lived, educated and worked in India for many years.

“India has provided refuge to Tibetan refugees, including my late parents and I, who escaped Communist China’s invasion and religious persecution in Tibet. Tibetans are most grateful to India and her people for providing them a second home for almost six decades,” he wrote.

“While Tibetan Buddhism is most severely restricted in Tibet, it thrives in India with re-established monastic universities such as Sera, Drepung, Gaden and others with systematic and rigorous study programs,” Dorjee said, giving his perspective on holistic understanding of religious conditions in India.

He said India is one of the great ancient civilisations of the world, a birthplace of major religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, and a home of different faiths.

“At an interfaith conference on harmony, His Holiness the Dalai Lama while appreciating centuries – old religious diversity and harmony in India, said: ‘… Despite this (in- house faiths and imported faiths), the fact is that these religions have been able to co-exist with each other, and the principle of Ahimsa (nonviolence) has really flourished in this country’.

“Even today, this principle has a strong bearing on every religion. This is very precious and India should really take pride in it,” he quoted the Dalai Lama as saying.

Dorjee said the Dalai Lama has lauded secular India as defined in the Indian Constitution that respects all faiths and those who do not follow any faith.

“Overall, I have observed and experienced religious harmony among faiths in India,” he said.

That said, India must effectively address problematic religious conditions including outbreaks of communal violence due to interfaith conflicts and politics, Dorjee said.

“While I do not condone any form of violence, given India’s multi-faith stance and with the second largest populace in the world, such intermittent outbreaks of violence are understandable,” Dorjee said.

Noting that the USCIRF report highlights religious conditions in India and the need for Indian government to protect the freedom of religious minorities, Dorjee urged the Indian government to “amend its nonsensical constitutional provision that deems Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains to be Hindus”.

These three faiths have their own distinctive founders, religious histories, and practices followed by millions of people in India and abroad, he said.

“In regards to banning cow slaughter, it is not uniform across India. Even in state like Uttar Pradesh, legal slaughter houses cater to the needs of beef consumption,” Dorjee said.

“In regards to Sikhs’ religious requirements, they travel freely in India wearing unshorn hair and turban and Article 25 of the Indian constitution deems Sikhs’ carrying kirpan legal as an article of faith,” he said, adding that in regards to the caste system, Indian government and people must uphold human dignity and eradicate this social evil.

“In my view, the designation of India as Tier 2 is unfortunate given that 19 of her 29 states may not involve in severe violations of religious freedom as in the remaining 10 states. I strongly urge the Indian government to allow USCIRF commissioners to visit India to discuss local religious conditions including interreligious harmony,” Dorjee added.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.