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US panel on religious freedom to visit India

world Updated: May 02, 2009 10:36 IST

PTI
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For the first time, a US Congress-backed panel on religious freedom would visit India next month to gain perspective on Indian government's response to allegations of communal violence in Gujarat, Orissa and other parts of the country.

As a result, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) refrained from publishing the status of religious freedom in India in its annual report released on Friday.

However, the report does mention Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the only individual who has been denied an American visa under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), which bars entry into the US of those foreigners who are "responsible for or directly carried out, particularly severe violations of religious freedom".

It said the provision has been invoked only once in 2005, when Modi was denied entry to the US to attend the World Gujarati meet over his alleged involvement in the 2002 Gujarat riots. "In March 2005, it (the provision) was used to exclude Governor (sic) Nahendra (sic) Modi of Gujarat State in India for his complicity in the 2002 riots that resulted in the deaths of nearly 2,000 Muslims," it said.

The '2008 Status of Religious Freedom' report has placed 12 States including China, Pakistan, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia as countries of particular concern.

"Concerning India, the Commission is not releasing its chapter today," Tala Eid, USCIRF Commissioner told reporters yesterday on the occasion of release of the annual report. Eid is the first Muslim cleric appointed to the USCIRF.

"The Commission is planning to travel to India next month for the first time, which will give us the opportunity to gain perspective on the government's response to communal violence that occurred in Orissa, Gujarat and elsewhere, as well as the ways in which India, the world's largest democracy, endeavors to respect and to promote religious freedom," Eid said.

"The Commission looks forward to meeting with senior Indian government officials, representatives of India's diverse religious communities and members of civil society," Eid said.

Consequently, the Commission will release the chapter on India during this summer. "If, for any reason, the travel does not occur, we will move ahead and release the chapter," he said.

Also, the report said the Commission continues to urge the Departments of State and Homeland Security to develop a lookout list of aliens who are inadmissible to the US for involvement in violations of religious freedom.

In September 2008, the Commission had sent a letter to the then President George W Bush urging him to raise with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh US concerns regarding the alleged anti-Christian violence in Orissa and broader issues of violence and intolerance among India's religious communities, the report said.