Hindu manifesto demands would silence human rights groups, NSS warns

Posted: Tue, 11th Jun 2024

Manifesto says linking caste to Hinduism is example of 'Hinduphobia'.

Bob Blackman, X

Calls by Hindu groups for the next government to criminalise 'Hinduphobia' would threaten the work of human rights campaigners, the National Secular Society has warned.

The 'Hindu manifesto', recently published by a group of Hindu organisations, calls on candidates to recognise "anti-Hindu hate as a religious hate crime" and "proscribe organisations and individuals engaged in it".

Examples of Hinduphobia given in the manifesto include saying that "all inequity in Indian society", such as "caste" and "misogyny", stem from and are "inextricably bound up with" Hinduism.

But the NSS argues that combatting misogyny and caste discrimination in India and the Indian diaspora must include challenging Hinduism and Hindu institutions.

Groups which challenge caste discrimination and misogyny in UK Hindu communities include Southall Black Sisters, the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, the Dalit Solidarity Network, and CasteWatchUK.

The Hindu manifesto is backed by groups including the Hindu Council UK (HCUK), which last year threatened Leicester Secular Society with police action after it hosted a talk critical of Hinduism's caste system.

HCUK has been highly vocal in its opposition to extending equality law to protect people from caste discrimination.

The manifesto is also supported by Bob Blackman (pictured), Conservative candidate for Harrow East. Blackman is also opposed to legal protections against caste discrimination.

There are an estimated 50,000 – 200,000 people in the UK who are regarded by some as 'low caste' and at risk of caste discrimination. There is evidence of caste-based discrimination and harassment present in employment, education and in the provision of services.

The law already protects Hindus, and all other people in the UK, from discrimination and hate crime based on religion or belief. But there is no specific protection in either equality law or hate crime law against caste discrimination or persecution.

NSS: Proposals could stifle criticism of Hindu nationalism

The manifesto defines "anti-Hindu hate" or "Hinduphobia" as "a set of antagonistic, destructive, and derogatory attitudes and behaviours towards Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) and Hindus that may manifest as prejudice, fear, or hatred".

The NSS warned that this could chill free speech about Hinduism because it would prevent people from expressing negative attitudes about the religion itself, and not just its followers.

The widely criticised "Islamophobia" definition proposed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims similarly targets speech about religion.

Other examples of 'Hinduphobia' given in the manifesto include making "unsubstantiated claims about the political agendas of people who are simply practising Hinduism" and conflating "diasporic Hindu identity with Indian citizenship, ethnicity, and patriotism."

The NSS argues that this could stifle criticism of Hindutva (extremist Hindu nationalism), because this ideology itself conflates Hinduism with political agendas.

Hindutva ideology promoted by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has played a role in anti-Muslim persecution in India, as well as growing tensions between Hindus and Muslims in the UK.

Another group backing the manifesto is Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), which was investigated by the Charity Commission in 2015 after an ITV documentary revealed HSS had run a training camp for teenage boys which included lectures on Hindutva ideology.

The manifesto is also backed by the National Council of Hindu Temples, which in 2015 apparently breached charity guidelines by appearing to urge Hindus to vote Conservative.

The manifesto additionally calls for more state-funded Hindu faith schools, for all schools to teach about Hinduism in religious education with resources approved by "Hindu scholars", and for "better representations of Hindu candidates in public institutions and political parties".

NSS: Manifesto "an example of the sectarianism the next government needs to reject"

A spokesperson for the NSS said: "This manifesto's demands are concerning.

"Like the APPG 'Islamophobia' definition, the proposal to criminalise 'Hinduphobia' would silence free speech around religion – including the freedom to stand up for human rights where they are undermined by religion.

"It's undeniable that we need to protect all individuals, including those from minority religious communities, from discrimination and hate. But this manifesto's proposals would do the opposite, by silencing the voices of those marginalised within religious communities. Our laws must protect people from harm, not ideas from criticism.

"The manifesto is an example of the sectarianism the next government needs to reject if the country is to avoid becoming more fragmented and increasingly fraught with ethnic and religious tensions."

Media coverage:

Tory candidates support 'Hindu manifesto' (Mahalsa.co.uk)

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Tags: Caste, Extremism, Free speech, Women