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Indian government respects religious freedom, but some states found wanting: US

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Washington: A US government report gave top rating to the Indian government for doing its best to protect religious freedom, but criticised some state and local governments for imposing limits on this freedom.


"The National Government generally respected religious freedom in practice; however, some state and local governments imposed limits on this freedom," the State Department said Monday in its Congressionally mandated annual report on International Religions Freedom.


"Although the vast majority of citizens of every religious group lived in peaceful coexistence, some organized societal attacks against minority religious groups occurred," the report said alleging "the state police and enforcement agencies often did not act swiftly to effectively counter such attacks."


Releasing the report covering 198 countries, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hoped it "will encourage existing religious freedom movements around the world and promote dialogue among governments and within societies."


The report said the phrase "generally respected" signifies that the government attempted to protect religious freedom in the fullest sense and was "thus the highest level of respect for religious freedom assigned" by it.


Religious extremists, it noted, committed numerous terrorist attacks throughout India, including the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai that targeted luxury hotels, a crowded railway station, a Jewish centre, a hospital, and restaurants.


The report noted 40 persons died and 134 were injured as "violence erupted in August 2008 in Orissa after individuals affiliated with left-wing Maoist extremists killed a Hindu religious leader in Kandhamal, one of the country's poorest districts."


"Although most victims were Christians, the underlying causes that led to the violence have complex ethnic, economic, religious, and political roots related to land ownership and government-reserved employment and educational benefits," it said.


Numerous cases were in the courts, including cases in connection with the 2002 Gujarat violence, the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, and more recent attacks against Christians, the State Department report noted.


But "some extremists continued to view ineffective investigation and prosecution of attacks as a signal that they could commit such violence with impunity."


"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 report said.


Listing "improvements and positive developments" in the year ended June 30, the report said, "In India, "Government officials responded to a number of new and previous violent events, helping to prevent communal violence and providing relief and rehabilitation packages for victims and their families."


"Efforts at ecumenical understanding brought religious leaders together to defuse religious tensions," it said noting, "in the aftermath of the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist strikes, religious leaders of all communities condemned the attacks and issued statements to maintain communal harmony."

Arun Kumar can be contacted at










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