Religious Intolerance in
Asian Legal Resource Centre -- ALRC
Sunday, 4th April 2004
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Statement on 'Religious intolerance in South Asia'
received by Commission on Human Rights
(Geneva, 4 April 2004) -- The written statement of the Asian Legal
Resource Centre (ALRC) on 'Religious intolerance in South Asia'
(E/CN.4/2004/NGO/48) was distributed on the 31 March 2004 at the 60th
Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
The full text of the statement follows.
This year, ALRC submitted 30 written statements to the Commission, on
topics as diverse as caste discrimination in Nepal, food scarcity in
Myanmar, custodial deaths and torture in India, extrajudicial killings
in Thailand, policing in Pakistan, the National Human Rights Commission
of Sri Lanka, and impunity in Asia.
The complete list of statements, with full texts and links to the
original versions, can be viewed on the ALRC website, at http://www.alrc.net/mainfile.php/60written/.
Asian Legal Resource Centre -- ALRC, Hong Kong
Religious intolerance in South Asia
1. The freedom for religious belief and ex-pression is a fundamental
human right, protected in both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights
as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Most states also guarantee the freedom of religious belief in their
constitutions and national laws. However, religious intolerance,
discrimination, violence and extremism continue to rise in Asia.
2. Regardless of their international and domestic obligations, Asian
governments have implemented laws that legitimize discriminatory
policies towards particular religious groups, denying freedom of
conversion and forcing them to recant their faith. Particularly
disconcerting is the heightened use of state-sanctioned harassment and
torture to control and regulate the religious beliefs of individuals. A
case in point is the 2002 legislation prohibiting religious conversion
in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, where members of the Christian and
Muslim communities have experienced harassment from authorities,
although freedom of religion is guaranteed under the Indian
Constitution. This freedom is especially crucial to the Dalit community,
which is the group likeliest to seek conversion, as a way out of the
discriminatory Hindu caste hierarchy. The new law effectively limits
this option. The situation inevitably causes concern about the genuine
will of abolishing this old pattern of discrimination, as it is now by
law made harder to overcome.
3. The caste system is a source of much discrimination and suffering, as
the following cases illustrate:
a. In 2003, in Thinniyam village, in Tiruchi district of Tamil Nadu, a
Dalit was forced to eat human excreta and in Dindigul district, another
Dalit was forced to drink urine on the allegation that they tried to
convert to Christianity. None of the perpetrators were punished and the
state government did not take any action in this regard.
b. On 22 September 2003, in Keela Urappanur village, of Thirumangalam
block of Madurai district, Tamil Nadu, a Dalit woman aged 38, Muthumari,
was forced to drink excreta mixed with water in front of her husband and
children by higher caste persons. When the victim tried to lodge a
complaint with the local police and the village authorities, her house
was stormed by those persons and she was threatened and further
c. In Tamil Nadu on 15 August 2003, when the rest of the nation was
celebrating the 56th anniversary of independence, K. Rasu, a Dalit by
birth and also the Panchayat President of Chottathatti village,
Sivaganga District, was humiliated and physically tortured by the rest
of the members of the Panchayat for ‘daring’ to unfurl the national flag
at the Panchayat’s official function since he was a Dalit.
3. In April 2003 the administration in Gujarat passed its version of the
Tamil Nadu Act, the Dharam Swatantrata Vidheya, which the minority
groups of Muslims and Christians claim is intended to restrict their
religious freedoms and criminalize their activities. In Gujarat
following its anti-conversion law, arbitrary questioning of non-Hindus
was implemented. The state police carried out a house-to-house
questioning of Christian nuns and priests, asking how many people they
4. In the parliamentary debate in India held on 12 March 2003, regarding
the atrocities committed on Dalits, Mr. Ramji Lal Suman, Honourable
Member of Parliament admitted that even 55 years after independence, the
atrocities towards the lower castes in India is on a rise and should be
considered as an issue of national shame and concern. The member also
admits that the report of the National Commission of Scheduled Castes
and Scheduled Tribes, though constituted to mitigate the sufferings of
Dalits, have never been debated in the parliament. Hon. Member Mr. Muni
Lall admitted in the debate that the degree of exploitation and
atrocities committed against the Dalits in India are beyond any
explanation and that the reason is not merely social but political as
5. The situation in Nepal is also not promising. It is the only country
that reiterates Hinduism as the national religion vide article 4 of its
constitution. Caste based discrimination is on an ever increasing rise
in Nepal, and the Asian Legal Resource Centre has made a separate
submission regarding Dalit women in India and Nepal to the Commission.
6. Article 9 of the Sri Lankan Constitution grants special status to
Buddhism, stating that "it shall be the duty of the State to protect and
foster the Buddha Sasana, while assuring to all religions the rights
guaranteed by Article 10 and 14 (1) (e)". Article 10 states "Every
person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,
including the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his
choice." Article 14 (1) (e) guarantees the freedom to manifest one’s
religious beliefs in worship, observance, practice and teaching, either
in public or in private, alone or in association with others. Not
withstanding this assurance, the attacks on churches have increased this
year while the police have stood idly by, as shown in the attacks
reported by Christian Solidarity Worldwide:
a.2-3 August 2003 - Methodist Church in Rathgama, 2 believers beaten;
Assembly of God Church (A.O.G.) in Thanamalwila, pastor attacked; A.O.G.
Church in Lunugamvehera, Pastor Ranjith and his sister beaten; A.O.G.
Church in Ganemulla, believers' houses attacked; Calvary Church in
Hiddaduwa, church attacked.
b.13 June 2003 - House church of Pastor Sylvester Rozairo attacked at
midnight, Brother Anton beaten, furniture, clothes and Christian
c. 3 June 2003 - St Stephen's Lutheran Church at Orutota, Gampaha,
d. 27 March 2003 - Apostolic Church of Padhaviya Siripura, church burned
down about six weeks after public protest rally (16th February) against
the existence of the church.
7. No convictions have yet been made in relation to these events. The
Asian Legal Resource Center is deeply concerned that further attacks
will be encouraged by the apparent impunity with which the perpetrators
are allowed to operate.
8. In Pakistan religious intolerance continues despite of international
and domestic pressure. Shamim Kausor, of the district of Toba Tek Singh
in Punjab province, was abducted at gunpoint from her home on 31
December 2003, by fundamentalist Muslim men. She was forced to marry a
Muslim man and was told that it would bring ‘grace’ to her life to bear
a Muslim child. Kausor's father, Afzal Masih tried to initiate legal
proceedings against the accused but was strongly dissuaded by Muslim
village leaders and the local police.
9. The Blasphemy Law contributes to legitimizing religious intolerance
in Pakistan. On 28 November 2003, Mr. Anwar Masih was arrested by the
Shadhra police under section 295 (b) & (c) of the Pakistan Penal Code,
which incorporates Blasphemy laws. The complainant, Mr. Naseer Ahmed,
who had personal enmity with the family of Anwar Masih, lodged a
complaint with Mr. Zulfiqar Ahmed, Sub Inspector, Shadhra Town Police
station, stating that Mr. Anwar Masih had defamed the name of Prophet
10. The Government of Bangladesh on 8 January 2004 banned all
publications of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Bangladesh, which represents
the country's 1,50,000 strong Muslim minority sect, bowing to pressure
from Islamic fundamentalists. The government also decided to withdraw
cases against 12,000 anti-Ahmadiyya activists, charged with assaulting
policemen while attacking an Ahmadiyya mosque in Dhaka on December 5.
11. The ban by Bangladesh's Home Ministry was imposed a day before the
end of an ultimatum to ex-communicate the sect by religious bigots.
Contrary to the move in December 2003, the State Minister for Religious
Affairs said only God had the right to declare anyone a non-Muslim. The
government has banned the sale, publication, distribution and retention
of all books and booklets on Islam published by the Ahmadiyya Muslim
Jamaat Bangladesh, which includes the Bengali or any other translation
(with explanation) of the Quran. The ban has been imposed in alleged
view of objectionable materials in such (Ahmadiyya) publications, which
hurt or may hurt the sentiments of the majority Muslim population of
12. The Vested Property Act is considered to be another symbol of
institutional discrimination upon the minority community in Bangladesh.
Thousands of people belonging to the minority Hindu community as well as
indigenous people have been dispossessed of their property by the brutal
implementation of this law. Immediately after the demolition of the
Babri Masjid in India, the Bangladesh government along the same lines
ordered identification of "Enemy Property" in Bangladesh in tune with
the Vested Property Act. This also resembles the Enemy Property
Continuance of Emergency Provisions (Repeal) Act 1974 of Pakistan.
13. As far as Indonesia is concerned, the violence that took place in
September with attacks on three Christian villages -- Saatu,
Pantangolemba and Pinedapa -- in Poso and Central Sulawesi resulting in
the deaths of nine persons, indicates the failure of the government to
provide necessary protection.
14. Overall, it seems that states are not doing enough to prevent
violence from occurring, or protecting religious minorities during
periods of violence, bringing justice to victims, arresting
perpetrators, providing proper compensation and taking preventive
measures for the cycle of religious violence to be extinguished. Towards
this goal, the Asian Legal Resource Center wishes to see the
international community, especially through the good offices of the
a. Pressure Asian governments, especially the Indian and Sri Lankan
governments to withdraw all domestic legislations that counteract the
inalienable right of freedom of religion.
b. Pressure the Indian government to declare that any legislation
fastening criminal liability for peaceful religious activity is against
the basic principles of the Indian constitution.
c. Pressure the Sri Lankan Government to take the earliest appropriate
action for impartial and just investigations so that the perpetrators of
religious intolerance are punished.
d. Pressure the Government of Bangladesh to reconsider its laws that
provide legitimacy for religious intolerance.
e. Pressure all states in Asia to adopt and enforce legislation
according to international law designed to protect religious freedom.
Particular attention must be given to revise and eliminate vague and
ambiguous content in laws, and repeal laws that permit only state
approved religious groups, anti-conversion laws, and those that
negatively discriminate against minority religious groups, including
unequal voting policies and religious identity cards. The strongest
regulations should be reserved for circumstances where torture is used
to force conversion.
f. Instruct all states in Asia to ensure that they adequately protect
religious minorities, particularly through preemptive securing of places
of worship and other areas of potential violence, especially during
religious festivals, holidays and elections.
g. Recommend that each state establish an independent working group or
equivalent agency empowered to effectively monitor religious intolerance
domestically and report back to the Commission and its Special
h. Assist all states in Asia in educating their societies on the
benefits of religious diversity, and encourage the fostering of dialogue
between religious groups.
i. Support the education of police, lawyers and judges in Asia on how to
properly protect the rights of religious groups, and encourage the
laying down of ways to hold unresponsive police and government officials
accountable. The latter would include the imposition of heavy fines,
removal from office and other severe sanctions against state servants
found to have practiced religious intolerance.