US council puts India among religiously intolerant countries

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Godhra Riots
Bangalore, May 11: India's image as a secular country took a serious beating for the third time in a row when the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom"s (USCIRF) Watch List for 2011, put it alongside Afghanistan, Cuba, and Venezuela.

Although no religious violent acts took place in 2010, the commission still put India in the watchlist, thanks to the tardy progress in bringing the perpetrators of earlier such violence to justice. Noteworthy are the riots and communal flare-ups that took place in Kandhamal, Orissa between 2007 and 2008, in Godhra, Gujarat in 2002, and against the Sikhs in 1984.

In a telling blow to the Indian judiciary, the commission wrote of the reason why India was in the watchlist, “justice for past communal violence continues to be slow and ineffective,".

The commissions twenty-odd page report explains India's inclusion in the list as:

Reported police and judicial bias, corruption, low ratios of police and judges to the population, and an overburdened and antiquated judicial system hinder the process to redress past large-scale communal violence and create an environment perpetuating harassment and violence against India's religious minority population.

Taking serious cognizance of the Freedom of Religion Acts that have been enacted in five states to prevent coercive religious conversions, the report states, "These laws contribute to an atmosphere of hostility, and sometimes violence, against religious minorities, and are used by local authorities to harass and sometimes detain individuals perceived to be proselytizing or who convert to another religion, mostly Christianity."

It was not as if the entire commission agreed on the reports and two members, who opposed India's inclusion in the list have offered a counterpoint to the above suggestion by saying, "These laws contribute to an atmosphere of hostility, and sometimes violence, against religious minorities, and are used by local authorities to harass and sometimes detain individuals perceived to be proselytizing or who convert to another religion, mostly Christianity."

The inclusion has also drawn serious flak from various religious councils, notable among which are the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC).

The HAF protested India's inclusion in the notorious list by stating, “USCIRF"s decision to club India in with a dozen or so of the worst violators of religious freedom in the world, while overlooking others, again raises questions of bias and flawed methodology there. The Commission"s censure of India in 2011, despite that country"s celebrated pluralism and absence of any significant recent religious discord—despite provocative terror attacks—seems based more on a disagreement over some states" efforts to monitor coercive and forced conversions."

Shaheen Khateeb, president of the IAMC, said in a statement: “It is indeed unfortunate that India, with its long history of tolerance and multiculturalism, has now found a place in the list of countries where religious freedom is at risk. However IAMC firmly believes that the recommendations of USCIRF are based on factual information. They represent legitimate concerns about the treatment of religious minorities in India, and should not be seen as an exercise in India-bashing."

OneIndia News

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