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India scolded

India | An "inadequate" response to violence against Christians and Muslims puts the country on a "watch list"

WASHINGTON-Violence in the past year against Christian minorities in India was enough for a U.S. agency to put the country on its "watch list" this year.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) cited India's "inadequate" response to the violence in the Orissa region, as well as acts against Muslims in the Gujarat region in 2002. Mostly Hindu nationalists groups led the attacks on Christians a year ago, with mobs destroying churches and homes. About 60 people were killed and thousands fled their homes. Maoist rebels had murdered Hindu teacher Swami Saraswati, but some Hindus blamed Christians. The commission alleges that the government didn't do enough to prevent the attacks.

"When the mob arrived it asked police to drop its guns to the ground," Phillomina Digal told Reuters in September of last year. "The policemen were outnumbered and went into the police station. The mob set my house on fire, burnt our tractor, and also another government vehicle. Then they all celebrated and left."

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In June, the Indian government denied visas to the U.S. commission, the second time since 2001 that it has barred commissioners from entering the country.

"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," said USCIRF chair Leonard Leo in a statement.

A spokesperson for Vishva Hindu Parishad, a right-wing Hindu organization, told the Navbharat Times that a visit by USCIRF would be "an attack on our religious sovereignty."

USCIRF gave India the worst religious freedom rating in 2002, as a "country of particular concern," after religious violence resulted in an estimated 2,000 deaths, but it removed that rating in 2005.

India joins Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela on the watch list.

The State Department has its own religious freedom "watch list" and "countries of particular concern," but it takes into consideration recommendations by the commission.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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