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Religious freedom in India under US scanner

A US panel expresses concerns over alleged attacks on Christian churches. Is US panel's concern about India justified?

india Updated: May 07, 2006 10:18 IST

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has said that it is "closely" monitoring religious freedoms in India.

The US commission announced its 2006 recommendations to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on "countries of particular concern (CPCs)" on Wednesday, saying that although India should not be under watch, it was being "monitored closely".

The commission's letter to Rice with 2006 CPCs recommendations stated that despite improvements after the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2004 general election, "concerns about religious freedom in India remain, particularly indications that attacks on Christian churches and individuals persist - in some areas at alarmingly high levels - without adequate prosecution.

"The BJP-led state of Rajasthan in particular has been the recent scene of serious attacks on Christian individuals and institutions carried out by members of extremist groups espousing Hindu nationalism".

It added that significant developments affecting freedom of religion that took place in India since the May 2004 elections resulted in the country's removal from the commission's list last year.

"The government has continued to act decisively in several volatile situations in the past year to prevent communal violence in circumstances where it has erupted in the past, most notably following the bombings in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi in early 2006, reportedly carried out by Islamist extremist groups," it explained.

Praising India's apex court, it said that the Supreme Court had taken significant steps to bring to justice those responsible for the violence in Gujarat post-Godhra riots in 2002, including by setting up an inquiry committee in February 2006 that resulted in the reopening of nearly 1,600 cases against those who took part in the attacks.

It also noted that school textbooks that had been revised and published under the previous BJP government were replaced in 2005.

The commission recommended that Burma, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), Eritrea, Iran, Pakistan, People's Republic of China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam be designated as CPCs.

It also added Afghanistan to the Watch List, joining Bangladesh, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, and Nigeria.

The International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 requires that the US designate as CPCs those countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion.