US praises UPA govt for its commitment to religious freedom

India's UPA-led government at the centre is quite committed to religious freedom, but it has "concerns" on this issues at the local level, specially those States ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Obama Administration's first Annual Report on International Religions Freedom, between July 2008 and June 2009 has said.

"The Government at the central level is quite committed and it's also, as you know, a very diverse– religiously diverse society, where, in fact, a lot of religions were born and nurtured. I think at a local level we have some concerns, and there are some specific instances mentioned in the report," Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Michael H Posner, told reporters after the release of the Congressionally mandated annual report.

"The response to violence, for example, in one case where a Hindu religious leader was killed and there was a spate of violence that affected mainly a Christian population and 40-some people killed." "So we are very mindful that there are still inner religious tensions within the society, and I think our focus would be on the lack of response at a local level rather than a national – the national policy is good. It's a question of how it's implemented at a local level," Posner said.

In its section on India which is spread over 30 pages, the report gives UPA-led Union Government the highest mark, but goes on to say that some state and local governments limited this freedom by enacting or amending "anti-conversion" legislation and by not efficiently or effectively prosecuting those who attacked religious minorities.
The report refers to the allegations of non-governmental organisations that BJP stoked communally sensitive matter as State elections grew near. While there was no report of any religious violence during the general elections held early this year, the report did mention the alleged inflammatory speech of the young BJP leader Varun Gandhi.

The State Department in its report also mentions the anti-conversion bills in the BJP-ruled States of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh an Himachal Pradesh; besides the BJD-ruled Orissa. The BJP continued to advocate contentious measures, such as the passage of "anticonversion" legislation in all states, the construction of a Hindu temple on the Ayodhya site, and the enactment of a uniform civil code. "During the reporting period, the government of Maharashtra took no action on regional Shiv Sena party chief Bal Thackeray for his June 2008 remarks advocating creation of "Hindu suicide squads" to fight "Islamic terrorism.", it said. 

According to the report, Christian church groups in Karnataka alleged attempts by state police to gather information on their pastorates under the guise of providing official sanction to function in their local areas. "For example, on September 26, 2008, a police notice asked Christian prayer groups in Moodabidri police station's jurisdiction in Mangalore for documentation pertaining to building ownership, activities, and membership.

Christian groups feared the information would be passed to Hindu extremist groups planning to organise anti-Christian violence, it said. "In general, India's democratic system, open society, independent legal institutions, vibrant civil society, and press all provided mechanisms to address violations of religious freedom when they did occur," the State Department said.

The Annual Report on International Religions Freedom, which records status of respect for religious freedom in all countries during the period from July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009, was released by the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department, on Monday afternoon. "Although the vast majority of citizens of every religious group lived in peaceful co-existence, some organised societal attacks against minority religious groups occurred," the report said in its section related to India, adding that State police and enforcement agencies often did not act swiftly to effectively counter such attacks.

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