The Indian government did not demonstrate a trend toward either improvement or deterioration in respect for and protection of the right to religious freedom, the US State Department said in its annual report on religious freedom around the world.
While observing that the vast majority of citizens of all religious groups lived in peaceful coexistence, the report said at times, violence between religious groups and organized communal attacks against religious minorities occurred.
The report said the country’s democratic system, open society, independent legal institutions, vibrant civil society, and free press actively provided mechanisms to address violations of religious freedom when they occurred.
"During meetings with senior government officials, as well as state and local officials, and religious community leaders, senior US officials discussed religious freedom issues, including reports of harassment of minority groups and missionaries, violence against religious minorities in Karnataka, and the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat," the report informed.
Although the UPA-led government implements an inclusive and secular platform that included respect for the right to religious freedom, the US State Department said due to a lack of sufficiently trained police and elements of corruption, the law was not always enforced effectively.
"Despite government efforts to foster communal harmony, some extremists continued to view ineffective investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of attacks on religious minorities as a signal that they could commit such violence with impunity."
The US State Department also took note of the anti-conversion laws active in five of the 28 states in India. "Authorities in some states continued to arrest Christians under state-level ‘anticonversion’ laws during the year for allegedly engaging in conversions by force, allurement, or fraud. Authorities granted bail to those charged, and there were no reports of convictions under these laws during the year," the Department said in the report.
While briefing the various communal violence incidents across India, the report cited the slow process in relief and rehabilitations for victims of the Kandhamal violence and said the speedy verdicts in Odisha upset many victims who complain that the fast-track courts acquitted offenders.
The denial of SC status to Dalit Christians and Muslims was also mentioned in the report. "Low-caste individuals who converted to Christianity or Islam were no longer able to access certain affirmative action benefits. The law reserves a set number of places in higher education institutions and government jobs for members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Under the constitution, however, only Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists can be members of Scheduled Castes," it said.
Each year, the US State Department is required to submit to the Congress a report reviewing the status of religious freedom in 199 countries and territories. It also describes the country’s policies to promote religious freedom around the world.
US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, while releasing the report, said for the United States “religious freedom is a cherished constitutional value, a strategic national interest, and a foreign policy priority".
"It’s particularly urgent that we highlight religious freedom, because when we consider the global picture and ask whether religious freedom is expanding or shrinking, the answer is sobering. More than a billion people live under governments that systematically suppress religious freedom. New technologies have given repressive governments additional tools for cracking down on religious expression," she said.
Clinton cautioned that absence of religious freedom can create a "climate of fear and suspicion that weakens social cohesion and alienates citizens from their leaders".
US: India's religious freedom status neither improved nor declined
By: John Malhotra
Wednesday, 1 August 2012, 21:27 (IST)
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