The quest for religious freedom and equal rights is ongoing, but for years, Hindus have largely been left out of the conversation as victims of religious discrimination and violence.
Last week, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) released its annual human rights report surveying the problems faced by Hindus and other religious minorities across the world. The report's findings not only highlight the persistent issues of discrimination against, marginalization of, and violence towards Hindu religious minorities, they point to a more troubling trend: an outright indifference by many human rights organizations and Western governments towards the persecution of Hindus.
While part of the problem might be the continuing conflation between Hindus and India, where they make up roughly 80 percent of the country's 1.3 billion people, a larger issue might be the simple -- and wrong -- assumption that Hindus don't face the same types of persecution as other religious groups do. For example, while Boko Haram's kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls earlier this month drew international media coverage, kidnappings and forced conversions of Hindu, Christian, and Sikh girls in Pakistan happen quite frequently without any mention: Roughly 1,000 girls a year are kidnapped and converted through coercion.
While countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh are routinely considered as primary perpetrators in religious discrimination and violence, other countries with solid international reputations have been almost as egregious in their violations of religious freedom.
Take Malaysia, for example. Before the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and the government's subsequent bungling of the investigation, Malaysia was seen as a key economic ally to the West and a moderate Muslim democracy. Just as recently as April, President Obama praised close ties between both countries.
However, Malaysia has had a disturbingly high number of cases in which religious minorities' rights have been infringed upon. Not only are religious groups such as Buddhists, Christians, and Hindus treated as second-class citizens, the Malaysian authorities routinely destroy Hindu temples and have made the process of continuing Hindu traditions highly difficult through the creation of additional red tape. As the New York Times noted, Malaysian president Razak Najib's early overtures to be moderate -- including the inclusion of Hindu leader Waytha Moorthy into his cabinet -- have been reversed due to "reactionary elements of his party."
Moreover, the Malaysian religious police, while not as infamous as their counterparts in Saudi Arabia or Iran, have made headlines in recent years. The religious police have acted as enforcers of the country's Sharia courts, which have increasingly made life difficult for non-Muslims, particularly in family disputes. Several years ago, a Hindu woman who was converted to Islam against her will as a child lost her bid to be recognized as a Hindu. Just last year, a Hindu woman, whose husband took their children and had them converted at an Islamic Center, was told by authorities that only a Sharia Court could decide her rights. Other cases involving non-Muslims have also made headlines in the country in recent years, highlighting the extent of Malaysia's deeply entrenched discriminatory policies restricting freedom of religion, family rights, and economic opportunities. As Obama himself noted in April: "Malaysia won't succeed if non-Muslims don't have opportunity."
This isn't to single out Malaysia, or to place the discrimination against Hindus as exceptional. Rather, the main goal of HAF's report is to highlight the fact that religious discrimination takes place against followers of all faiths while pressing U.S. policymakers to safeguard the rights of religious minorities in countries that egregiously violate religious freedom. To downplay the oppression of Hindus in countries such as Malaysia is to inherently deny the pluralistic nature of the struggle for human rights.