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India: Importance of Getting Religious Freedom Right

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 6, 2015 | USCIRF

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) commends President Obama for deepening relations with India while also recognizing religious freedom concerns during his three-day trip to the country in late January, concerns he reiterated at the February 5 National Prayer Breakfast.  On both occasions, the President highlighted how India’s success is dependent on not being “splintered along the lines of religious faith” and “in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs -- acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.”

“President Obama’s timely comments underscore the importance of India getting religious freedom right,” said USCIRF Chair Katrina Lantos Swett.  “This is a challenge that India must and can address, given its diversity and long history of democratic values.  India’s history includes both Article 25 of its constitution – which provides for freedom of conscience and the free profession, practice, and propagation of religion – and its international commitments.  India can meet this challenge by protecting religious minorities and holding accountable the perpetrators of religiously-motivated harassment, intimidation and violence,” concluded Lantos Swett.

The President’s concerns come at a time of increasing abuses against India’s minority religious communities.  Hindu nationalist groups, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), have assaulted these communities and forced community members to convert.  In just the last three months, five churches were attacked in Delhi; Hindu nationalists reportedly forcibly converted Christians and Muslims; and a mob of more than 5,000 people attacked the majority-Muslim village of Azizpur, Bihar, killing three Muslims and setting about 25 houses on fire.  In addition, on February 5, police detained hundreds of Christians demonstrating against attacks on churches in New Delhi, including John Dayal, a human rights activist, who testified on April 4, 2014 before the Tom Lantos Commission on “The Plight of Religious Minorities in India.”

“India is one of the United States’ most important partners,” continued Lantos Swett.  “It is the world’s largest democracy with nearly 1.22 billion people, a deeply pluralistic society, and the birthplace of numerous religions.  This society includes the world’s third-largest Muslim population and a Christian population larger than several European countries.  Our two nations share many values, and upholding religious freedom must be one of them,” Lantos Swett said.

Since 2009 USCIRF designated India as a Tier 2 country, noting since 2014 increased communal and religiously-motivated attacks and slow and ineffective redress for victims of past incidents, leading to a culture of impunity.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0613.

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