(CNSNews.com) – Radical Hindu nationalists closely aligned to the Indian government warned Christians in Punjab state late last year to prepare to convert to Hinduism “or get ready to die,” according to a complaint before a U.S. federal court.
A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York calls on the U.S. government to designate as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) a radical Hindu organization with close ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling party.
Late last week attorneys filed an amended complaint in a case brought by an advocacy group called Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) against Secretary of State John Kerry.
The amended document adds three additional plaintiffs, two Christians and a Muslim, who claim to be victims of a forced conversion campaign carried out by the Hindu group RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteer Corps).
The three say that threats by RSS radicals determined to forcibly convert minorities to Hinduism have increased since Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won India’s general election last year.
Modi, a generally highly-regarded leader whose high-profile visit to Washington last fall was reciprocated when President Obama traveled to India in January, was once a full-time RSS activist, and the RSS is viewed as the BJP’s parent organization.
The complaint claims that Kerry ignored an SFJ appeal sent last December urging him to designate RSS as an FTO under U.S. law.
It wants the court to issue a judgment declaring RSS to be an FTO, for “practicing a fascist ideology and for running a passionate, vicious and violent campaign to turn India into a ‘Hindu’ nation with a homogeneous religious and ethnic identity.”
The complaint cites a recently-released report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent statutory watchdog, which criticized India for violations and recommended it be placed on a second-tier watch list of countries which the U.S. should closely monitor and encourage to reform.
“Based on the evidence and recent report of USCIRF, [the] Obama administration is bound under law to declare organizations like RSS as terror groups,” SFJ attorney Gurpatwant Singh Pannun said in a statement after filing the amended complaint.
‘Forgo the foreign religion of Christianity’
India, which has the world’s second-biggest population of 1.2 billion, is predominantly Hindu, with a large Muslim minority. Christians account for just over two percent of the population, and Sikhs for about two percent.
According to court documents plaintiff Micheal Masih is a Christian who fled India because of RSS threats against him and his family “to abandon the Christian faith and convert to Hinduism.”
It says RSS activists invaded his home in Punjab state last November, saying they had received orders from RSS headquarters to warn all Christians in the area to prepare to convert to Hinduism “or get ready to die.”
Another plaintiff, Hasim Ali – a Muslim – reports that the RSS late last year began a campaign of forced “reconversion ceremonies,” and that under threat his family had gone into hiding.
“Prominent leaders of RSS have stated the party’s policy, goal and aim as there won’t be a single Muslim or Christian left in India,” the complaint says.
Plaintiff Kulwinder Singh is described as a Sikh who together with his family converted to Christianity of “their own free will,” but then started coming under RSS attack.
After Modi’s election victory, the complaint says, RSS members visited Singh’s home and said they had received orders from the RSS leadership “to warn all the Christians to forgo the foreign religion of Christianity and convert to ‘Hinduism.’”
Lawyers for Kerry say SFJ has no standing to bring the claim and that, even if it did, the complaint should still be dismissed because of the “political question doctrine” – a rule that removes the judiciary from controversies revolving around policy choices and questions which under the Constitution other branches of government are empowered to address.
“[N]either SFJ nor this Court possesses authority to compel the Secretary to designate an entity as a foreign terrorist organization – a discretionary action that implicates important foreign affairs and national security considerations, and which is entrusted to the political branches,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara argued in an earlier submission.
He said U.S. law authorizes the secretary of state to designate FTOs after considering factors including U.S. national security interests. Allowing a third party like SFJ to submit a letter, then seek legal remedy when that letter is not heeded in a way that it views as acceptable, would impede rather than enhance the process of FTO designation.
In its annual report published a month ago, the USCIRF referred to plans by Hindu national groups late last year to “reconvert” thousands of Christian and Muslim families to Hinduism under a program dubbed “homecoming.”
It said that “religious minority communities voice concern that high-ranking BJP members protect or provide support to these [radical Hindu] groups.”
The report did note favorably a public statement by Modi last February, to the effect his government “will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.”
New Delhi reacted coolly to the USCIRF assessment, which a foreign ministry spokesman said was “based on limited understanding of India, its constitution and its society.”
State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke on Thursday described the agenda being pursued by the Obama and Modi administrations as “extremely broad and ambitious.”