India slams US body’s criticism on religious freedom

NEW DELHI - India Thursday slammed a US body’s move to put India on its ‘watch list’ for allegedly inadequate response in protecting its religious minorities, and asserted that the Indian constitution guarantees freedom of religion and equality of opportunity to all its citizens.

“India, a country of 1.1 billion people, is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, external affairs ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said in response to a question.

“The constitution of India guarantees freedom of religion and equality of opportunity to all its citizens who live and work together in peace and harmony, he said.

“Aberrations, if any, are dealt with promptly within our legal framework, under the watchful eye of an independent judiciary and a vigilant media, the spokesperson said.

“The reported move referred to in the news reports is egrettable, he said.

Prakash was referring to the decision of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to place India on its ‘watch list’ due to disturbing increase in communal violence against religious minorities in the country.

In a statement in Washington Wednesday, the USCIRF said India earned the ‘watch list’ designation due to the “disturbing increase” in communal violence against religious minorities - specifically Christians in Orissa in 2008 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 - and the largely inadequate response from the Indian government to protect the rights of religious minorities.

A country designated on the USCIRF ‘watch list’ requires “close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the government”.

The USCIRF, which released its annual report early this year, had put off the publication of its India chapter due to the general elections held in April and May.

USCIRF members were keen to visit India for their first hand assessment of the situation but they were not given visas.


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