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India on religious freedom 'watch list': US State Department avoids comment

Avoiding a direct comment on a US body's move to put India on its 'watch ist' for religious freedom, the State Department has said that "freedom of expression and religious freedom" were important to the US.

world Updated: Aug 15, 2009 09:09 IST
Arun Kumar

Avoiding a direct comment on a US body's move to put India on its 'watch list' for religious freedom, the State Department has said that "freedom of expression and religious freedom" were important to the US.

But a department spokesman on Friday could not say if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had talked about it during her visit to India last month.

"I can't say to what degree it came up during the Secretary's conversations last month, but clearly, this is an area which we think it obviously is, across the globe, a source of potential stability," P J Cowley told reporters on Friday when asked about Clinton's impression of religious freedom in India.

"And we believe that those societies that practice significant tolerance will be those that advance most significantly in the coming years."

"I think that, obviously, we talk at the Department of State about many universal principles. We've talked about them in a variety of contexts," he said. "But certainly, freedom of expression and religious freedom we think are hallmarks of stable, progressive societies in the 21st century. It is obviously important to us."

India Thursday slammed the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for putting India on its 'watch list' for allegedly inadequate response in protecting its religious minorities.

Pointing out that India, a country of 1.1 billion people, is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society," an external affairs ministry spokesperson had described the move as "regrettable."

In a statement in Washington Wednesday, the USCIRF said India earned the 'watch list' designation due to the "disturbing increase" in communal violence against religious minorities - specifically Christians in Orissa in 2008 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 - and the largely inadequate response from the Indian government to protect the rights of religious minorities.