Tuesday, August 18, 2009

India unhappy about being on religious freedom “Watch List”

So, India isn’t happy about being placed on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s “Watch List” because of the country’s violations of religious freedom.  According to a statement by a spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Vishnu Prakash, this decision was “regrettable”. "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," he told the Press Trust of India.

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 by the Indian government.

Some religious leaders are dismissing the designation, however, claiming that it ignores India’s secular constitution.  But the fact is, this is not what the USCIRF is evaluating. The issue is not the Indian governments' expressed intentions or official policies, but their actions!  And in this, both federal and state officials have been woefully negligent. 

According to the All India Christian Council, the violence that erupted last August against Christians damaged 315 villages and destroyed 4,640 Christian houses. In addition, 70 people were killed, 18,000 Christians were injured and 54,000 were rendered homeless. Yet, as Compass Direct noted in their recent report, one year after the violence “only six people have been convicted in just two cases of rioting, while several suspects have been acquitted in four such cases despite the formation of fast-track courts.” Many of the more than 50,000 people who fled to forests or took shelter in refugee camps have not returned home out of fear of those who demand they either convert to Hinduism or leave their villages. AICC’s secretary general, Dr. John Dayal, seemed pessimistic about a change in the government’s attitude as he spoke to Compass Direct.

“Unfortunately, nothing really impacts the government of India or the government of Indian states,” he said. “The state, and our social conscience, seems Teflon-coated. The patriotic media and political sector dismiss international scrutiny as interference in the internal affairs of India, and a beaten-into-submission section of the leadership of religious minorities assumes silence to be the best form of security and safety.”

Dr. Sajan George, the national convenor of the GCIC, said the report showed that India had become a “super violator” of human rights. The Rev. Dr. Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said the U.S. panel’s report did not augur well with India’s claim to find a respectable place within the community of nations.

“India as an emerging economic power in the world should also endeavor to better its records of protecting human rights, particularly when it comes to religious freedom of its citizens,” Joseph said.

Joseph told Compass the USCIRF report was “a clear indication of the growing concern of the international community with India’s repeated failure to take decisive and corrective measures to contain religious intolerance.”

Christian leaders generally lauded the report, with Dayal saying, “India’s record on the persecution of minorities and the violation of religious freedom has been a matter of international shame for the nation.”

Please continue to pray for India’s Christians during these days, especially as the anniversary of the Orissa attacks draws near. Please post a prayer on our Persecuted Church Prayer Wall to as a reminder that you have not forgotten our brothers and sisters there.

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