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US slams Gujarat , Rajasthan anti-conversion laws

Sat, Sep 20, 2008

Washington, Sep 20 (IANS) The US has criticised the Gujarat and Rajasthan state governments for enacting or amending 'anti-conversion' laws while acknowledging that the central government generally respected freedom of religion.

'The (Indian) constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the national government generally respected this right in practice,' noted the US State Department in its Annual Report on International Religious Freedom

'However, some state and local governments, including those of Gujarat and Rajasthan, enacted or amended 'anti-conversion' laws,' said the congressionally mandated report covering the period July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008.

'Nations must not only make peace with their neighbours, they must make peace with themselves, and that means respecting diversity, and protecting it in law,' said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice releasing the report Friday.

The report designated eight countries - Burma, China, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan - as 'Countries of Particular Concern' (CPCs) that have 'engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom' during the reporting period.

As 'promotion of religious freedom for all is central to American identity and a core objective of US foreign policy,' the report said it primarily focused on documenting the actions of governments that repress religious expression, persecuted believers, and tolerate violence against religious minorities.

'Limits on proselytisation and the ability to choose one's faith remained a concern,' the report said accusing some countries such as Malaysia , Greece and Israel of continuing to enforce laws that curb peaceful proselytising activities.

'Other countries either passed or introduced anti-conversion laws. Six of 28 states in India have passed anti-conversion laws; the sixth did so during the reporting period,' it said.

In the case of India , the report acknowledged that the vast majority of citizens of every religious group lived in peaceful coexistence.

'However, there were reports of organized societal attacks against minority religious groups. State police and enforcement agencies often did not act swiftly enough to effectively counter societal attacks,' it said.

'In Orissa, which is governed by a coalition government that includes the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Hindu extremists attacked Christian villagers and churches in the Kandhamal district over the Christmas holidays,' the report alleged.

Extremists damaged approximately 100 churches and Christian institutions and destroyed 700 Christian homes which led villagers to flee to nearby forests. The violence affected 22 Christian-owned businesses, it said. Numerous cases were in the courts, including cases in connection with the 2002 Gujarat violence, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, and attacks against Christians.

Some extremists continued to view ineffective investigation and prosecution of attacks as a signal that they could commit such violence with impunity, the State Department report suggested.

Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that communal violence against religious minorities was part of a larger Hindu nationalist agenda and corresponded with ongoing state electoral politics, the report said.

There were terrorist attacks at or near places of worship during the reporting period, including a coordinated series of bombings in market and temple areas in Jaipur, Rajasthan in May 2008 and an explosion at the main mosque in Hyderabad in May 2007.

These attacks reflect a soft target focus and appear designed to foment communal violence, the State Department suggested.



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