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India slams US panel report on religious freedom

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New Delhi, May 1:

India has slammed a US government panel report that claims direct link between the 2014 general elections in India and the spike in attacks on religious minorities in the country.

minoritiesThe report said since the 2014 elections, religious minority communities in India have been “subject to derogatory comments by politicians linked to the ruling BJP” as well as “numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups, such as RSS and VHP”.

External affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, “Our attention has been drawn to a report of the USCIRF which has passed judgement on religious freedom in India. The report appears to be based on limited understanding of India, its constitution and its society.”

“We take no cognizance of the report,” he said.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2015 Annual Report on April 30.

USCIRF is an “independent, bipartisan US federal government commission, the first of its kind in the world, dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad,” the website says.

“USCIRF reviews the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations and makes policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the president and the Congressional leadership of both political parties,” says the website.

The annual report, which devoted five pages to India, has recommended that India along with 10 countries be placed as Tier 2 countries as “those countries whose governments engage in or tolerate at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious’ standard, but do not fully meet the CPC standard.”

CPC stands for “Countries of Particular Concern” — defined under law as countries where particularly severe violations of religious freedom are tolerated or perpetrated: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, and Vietnam.

The eight Tier 2 countries are: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Russia, and Turkey.

Other countries monitored include Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Cyprus, Kyrgyzstan, and Sri Lanka.

The report, which devotes a section to “Hindu Nationalist Groups and Forced Conversions”, mentions the proposed “Ghar Wapsi” plan of RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat on Christmas Day last year as well as the other reported incidents of “ghar wapsi” (re-co0nversions) by Hindu rightwing groups.

On the anti-conversion law passed by some states, it claims the law is “one-sided” and is “only concerned about conversions away from Hinduism but not towards Hinduism”.

It says: “Observers note they create a hostile, and on occasion violent, environment for religious minority communities because they do not require any evidence to support accusations.”

The report also notes US President Barack Obama’s comments on religious freedom in India, including during his visit to India in January and during the US National Prayer Breakfast address in February.

Obama in his town hall event in New Delhi had “underscored the importance of religious freedom to India’s success”, urging the country to not be “splintered along the lines of religious faith”.

Among its six recommendations to the US government are: “Integrate concern for religious freedom into bilateral contacts with India, including the framework of future Strategic Dialogues, at both the federal and provincial level”; “Increase the US embassy’s attention to issues of religious freedom and related human rights, including through visits by the Ambassador and other officials to areas where communal and religiously-motivated violence has occurred or is likely to occur and meetings with religious communities, local governmental leaders, and police; “Urge the central Indian government to press states that have adopted anti-conversion laws to repeal or amend them to conform with internationally-recognized human rights standards”; “Urge the Indian government to publicly rebuke government officials and religious leaders that make derogatory statements about religious communities.”

(IANS)