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India ‘regrets’ U.S. report

Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: India has termed “regrettable” the move by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to ask U.S. President Barack Obama to urge India to take new measures to promote communal harmony and prevent communal violence.

In its India report, it also asked the U.S. administration to ensure that all Indian political parties and religious or social organisations publicly denounce violence against and harassment of religious minorities, women, and low-caste members, and to acknowledge that such violence constitute a crime under Indian law.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said: “India, a country of 1.1 billion people, is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Aberrations, if any, are dealt with promptly within our legal framework, under the watchful eye of an independent judiciary and a vigilant media.”

The USCIRF is a U.S. federal government commission whose commissioners are appointed by the U.S. President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. It reviews the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and makes policy recommendations.

The USCIRF said India had “earned” the Watch List designation due to the increase in communal violence against religious minorities — specifically Christians in Orissa last year and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 — and the “largely inadequate response” from the Indian government.

“It is extremely disappointing that India, which has a multitude of religious communities, has done so little to protect and bring justice to its religious minorities under siege,” said USCIRF chair Leonard Leo.

Any country designated on the ‘Watch List’ requires “close monitoring.” Other countries on the list are Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela.

“India’s democratic institutions charged with upholding the rule of law…..have emerged as unwilling or unable to seek redress for victims of the violence. More must be done to ensure future violence does not occur and that perpetrators are held accountable,” said Mr. Leo. In both Orissa and Gujarat, court convictions have been infrequent, perpetrators rarely brought to justice and thousands of people remain displaced, he added.

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