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'Listing India on 'Watch List' smacks of bias'

April 29, 2011 09:25 IST

The decision of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom to place India in the 'Watch List' of countries along with Russia, Afghanistan and Cuba raises questions of bias and flawed methodology, a Washington-based eminent Hindu group has said.

"USCIRF's decision to club India in with a dozen or so of the worst violators of religious freedom in the world, while overlooking others, again raises questions of bias and flawed methodology," Prof Ramesh Rao of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) alleged.

"The Commission's censure of India in 2011, despite that country's celebrated pluralism and absence of any significant recent religious discord -- despite provocative terror attacks -- seems based more on a disagreement over some states' effort to monitor coercive and forced conversions," Rao said.

The USCIRF decision, however, was not unanimous.

Commissioners Felice Gaer and William Shaw dissented, describing the listing of India on the watch list as "ill-advised and inappropriate".

HAF was the only organization invited to testify by USCIRF that demanded India's removal from the watch list, and its arguments were echoed by the two commissioners in their public dissent.

Besides Rao, the author of HAF's annual Hindu human rights report, Suhag Shukla, HAF's Managing Director and Legal Counsel testified before the USCIRF Commissioners in Washington last month arguing that India did not belong on the watch list due to its robust human rights mechanisms and independent judiciary that comprehensively probed incidents of inter-religious violence.

They insisted that the "predatory proselytizing" supported by many US churches vitiates inter-religious harmony in India as well as other countries and must be considered in any comprehensive analysis of international religious freedom, a media release said.

"We are disappointed that the compelling evidence we presented did not move the majority of commissioners away from their deeply flawed assumptions about India," Shukla said.

"But continuing to call out bias within quasi- government bodies, such as USCIRF, that lack Hindu, Buddhist, or Sikh representation and bringing to light the damaging role that predatory proselytization plays in inter-religious relations around the globe are guiding principles and imperative for HAF," Shukla said.

Shukla and Rao offered evidence of the Constitutional and legal accommodations provided to India's minorities, including the existence of separate personal and family laws for Muslims and Christians, governmental subsidies for the annual Haj pilgrimage for Muslims and the right of all religious communities, except Hindu, to independently control their respective places of worship free from government interference.

They also highlighted India's affirmative action policies and reservations in government and educational institutions, intended to afford economic and social advantages to religious minorities.