Sunday, July 15, 2007


Hindus facing persecution
Report charts human rights abuses that Hindus in and outside of India dealt with in '06.

By Russell Working
Tribune staff reporter
Published July 13, 2007
Bolingbrook resident Raj Koul was a student in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir when Islamic extremists launched an ethnic cleansing campaign against Hindus.

As mobs in the Muslim-majority state ransacked homes and killed residents, someone pasted a poster on the Kouls' door ordering them to leave within 24 hours, the United Airlines project manager says. After the family fled in 1990, they learned that a relative had been murdered.
Koul hears echoes of his experiences in a report from the Maryland-based Hindu American Foundation, "Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights 2006," that censures 10 countries and the Jammu and Kashmir region for human rights abuses against Hindus.

The report, released this week, also cites abuses in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad and Tobago.

A number of the nations are Muslim -- where the Hindu ritual use of carved deities is often perceived as idolatry -- but the foundation reports persecution by the Buddhist monarchy in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan, and by Christians in the Pacific archipelago of Fiji and the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

Hinduism, one of the world's oldest surviving religions, has 1 billion adherents worldwide, but they are a minority outside India, making them vulnerable, said Ishani Chowdhury, the foundation's executive director. Many of the countries cited have religiously oriented governments.

"If you're considered an outsider because you don't show the majority community's faith, it culminates to the point where there is such extreme violence," Chowdhury said.

Human-rights group Amnesty International has confirmed abuses in a number of the countries mentioned, including the kidnapping, torture and killing of Hindu civilians in Jammu and Kashmir by Islamist rebels. But the agency has not studied the treatment of Hindus alone, said spokesman T. Kumar.

"We have documented abuses against all religious minorities in Pakistan and in Bangladesh," he said.

In Bangladesh, actions against Hindus by Islamic fundamentalists included 461 incidents of murder, rape, kidnappings and temple destruction during the nine months of 2006 for which data is available, according to the report.

Officials at the Bengali Embassy in Washington did not respond to phone messages and a fax. But a statement on the embassy's Web site downplayed sectarian discord there.

"In a country which is deeply committed to democratic practices and tolerance, communal disharmony is farthest from people's mind," the embassy stated. "On the contrary, Bangladesh has been universally described as moderate, functioning Muslim democracy."

The foundation compiled its report with the help of international and grass-roots organizations, ranging from Human Rights Watch to the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council. Media accounts of violence and abuse are frequently cited.

In Pakistan, a country where Hindus constitute 1.6 percent of the population, Hindu girls were kidnapped, raped, held in Islamic seminaries and forcibly converted, the report stated. Temples were destroyed, and 5,000 Hindus fled violence in the Balochistan region, the report said.

A Hindu temple in Karachi was seized and converted into a slaughterhouse, Hindu pilgrims have been attacked and murdered and minorities are disproportionately targeted by Islamic blasphemy laws, the report said.

Abuses continued this year, according to news reports. In February, at least six Pakistani Hindu women were gang-raped. In one instance, eight gunmen invaded the home of a Hindu family, raped three women and robbed them, the Balochistan Times reported.

Nadeem Haider Kiani, press attache at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, said the report's section on his country is erroneous and exaggerated. Minorities are an important part of Pakistani society and have seats in federal and local legislatures, he said. Muslims also fled unrest in Balochistan and most refugees have returned, Kaini said.

"With the mushroom growth of electronic media and print media in Pakistan, if a crime is committed in any corner of Pakistan, it is blown out of proportion in the media," he said.

In Koul's case, the anguish of his people was personal. An elderly uncle who refused to flee was kidnapped and found hanging from a tree, his eyes gouged out and genitals cut off, Koul said.

Koul worries that the West does not understand the danger of extremism in the region and elsewhere.

"We were kicked out because of our religion, just because we were Hindus," said Koul, who is president of the Indo-American Kashmir Forum, which seeks to call attention to the human rights abuses in the region. "Losing your birthplace and you can't go back -- it is a very, very tragic experience."

About 70 families from Jammu and Kashmir live in the Chicago area, he said.

Ashish Ganju of Naperville was unable to return to the region after rioting broke out in 1989 while he was traveling. His cousin's husband, a police officer, faced a fate similar to that of Koul's uncle.

The man was lured from his home by people who said they just wanted to talk, Ganju said. Instead, his captors gouged out his eyes, tore off his nails and peeled off pieces of his skin.

"He was found by the road in a gunnysack, cut up in pieces," Ganju said.

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