Dr. Ramesh Rao, professor and chair of the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre, was the principal author of the Hindu American Foundation’s annual human rights report, the sixth time in seven years that he has done so.
The seventh annual report, Hindus in South Asia and the Diaspora: A Survey of Human Rights 2010 (the title always uses the previous year), was released May 25. Rao, human rights coordinator for the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and a member of the HAF’s executive council from 2004-09, has been the principal author of every report except for in 2008. Next year’s report will be the last for Rao.
“In some countries, the situation has worsened, and in some countries, we have seen it change for the better,” Rao said. “One of the biggest challenges is the Hindu minority in Bangladesh, which is constantly under the gun. It was originally part of India, and when it was established, initially as East Pakistan, in 1947, its population was nearly 30 percent Hindu. Now it’s about nine percent. However, in both last year’s report and this year’s, the number of attacks in Bangladesh against Hindus has de-escalated. The political party that returned to power two years ago, the Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina, has been much more attentive to the problems faced by minorities, the largest of which is Hindus, than the previous ruling party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
“This year’s report censured the same eight countries as last year. In Fiji, one of the eight countries, there also has been a de-escalation of attacks against Hindus, and in a third country on the list of censured countries, Trinidad and Tobago, the situation also is getting better. Afghanistan, once on the list, was removed in this year’s report as well as in the previous one – not because the situation is improving but because things are falling apart. The small Hindu minority there became barely identifiable because all of them fled. In this year’s report, we noted continuing problems in Pakistan, Malaysia and Bhutan. In Pakistan, the Hindu population, between 15 and 25 percent in 1947, is now less than two percent.”
Rao said that it takes about four months each year to prepare the report. “I collect the data beginning in October, maintain contacts with human rights observers on the ground in these countries, collate the materials, and send the materials to the HAF staff, which consists of only four full-time persons, for their editing. I work on the report on weekends and holidays, and sometimes I work in the evening too. I finished this year’s report around March 1.”
This year’s report, as in years past, “censures eight countries for what it considers rampant human rights violations and discriminatory laws that designate minorities as second class citizens,” reports the HAF web site. “It expresses continued concern about two other countries where improvement is considered unlikely in the near term – Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia – and a third instance of Australia, where acts of omission and commission have made life more difficult for Indians and Hindus…In Pakistan, the report detailed an alarming trend of kidnappings, forced conversions of young girls, and deadly attacks on non-Muslims amidst an atmosphere of escalating violence and intolerance.”
“Despite a slight decrease in the number of attacks in Bangladesh and the government’s expansion of the national Human Rights Commission, Hindus continued to be victims of ethnic cleansing waged by Islamic fundamentalists,” the HAF web site continues. “Hindus in Bangladesh are subjected to daily acts of murder, rape, kidnapping, temple destruction, and physical intimidation.”
The censured countries, where, according to the report, the human rights of Hindu citizens are “consistently violated,” are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
“Hindus in South Asia, and many of the twenty million Hindus living outside of India, are subject to discrimination, terror, murder, and other forms of violence, forced conversions, ethnic cleansing, temple destruction, socio-political ostracization, and disenfranchisement,” the executive summary of the report says. “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.”
Rao presented a briefing in December 2007 at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., on discrimination against Hindus in Malaysia. Rao and the HAF’s policy director met with two people from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and with a Malaysia desk officer for the State Department. He also meets regularly with staff at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to report about religious and human rights discrimination against Hindus.
Hindus, who number nearly one billion, constitute the third largest religious group in the world. One of the oldest surviving religions, Hinduism traces its origins back to at least the third millennium B.C.E.