Indian rejects US criticism on religious freedom

Indian rejects US criticism on religious freedom New Delhi - India said Thursday that reports of a United States panel putting the country on a watch list of nations where religious freedom was at risk was "regrettable."

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), in a statement Wednesday said it had placed India on its watch list for its largely inadequate response in protecting religious minorities.

The statement mentioned the increase in communal violence against religious minorities - specifically Christians in Orissa in 2008 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002.

USCIRF issued its latest annual report on religious freedom in May. The panel's main responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to recommend policies to the US president, secretary of state and Congress.

The India chapter, however, was delayed because USCIRF wanted to visit India but New Delhi declined to issue visas, the statement said.

"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," USCIRF chairman Leonard Leo was quoted as saying.

At least 40 people were killed, dozens of churches destroyed and thousands fled their homes in India's eastern Orissa state in August 2008 after Hindu fanatics went on a killing spree following the assassination of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati.

Saraswati was a hard-line Hindu leader who was campaigning in the area against conversion to Christianity.

In the western state of Gujarat, at least 100 people, largely Muslims, were killed by Hindu mobs from February to April 2002 in riots triggered by a fire on a train that killed 60 Hindu pilgrims.

A statement from India's Ministry of External Affairs mentioned media reports about the USCIRF statement and said: "The reported move referred to in the news reports is regrettable."

It said India's Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion. "Aberrations, if any, are dealt with promptly within our legal framework, under the watchful eye of an independent judiciary and a vigilant media." (dpa)

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