AsiaNews The International Religious Freedom Report released by the US government every year has recognised this year that the Indian government has demonstrated its commitment to a policy of religious inclusion at its highest levels and throughout this generally tolerant and highly diverse society.
Fr Joseph Babu, spokesperson for the Bishops Conference of India, told AsiaNews that the references made in the annual report of the US administration on religious freedom in India after the new government led by Dr Manmohan Singh took over in 2004 has some merit. For at the highest level of the administration, they have taken the policy of an inclusive society, repealed the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) which was largely perceived to be anti-minorities in India and have revised text books in schools.
However, Father Babu noted, the de facto situation of the minorities has not changed much on the ground. There have been reports of intermittent attacks on minorities, particularly on Christians and their institutions. Some of the organizations and individuals that support the anti-minorities stand are still to be reigned in, and this alone can instil confidence in the minds of the minorities of India .
John Dayal, secretary-general of the All India Christian Council and chairman of the All India Catholic Union, organisations that represent millions of Christians and Catholics, is also in favour of the report but with reservations.
The government has indeed done much to reverse the BJP’s communal governance, particularly in education, but much more remains to be done, he said.
In his view, commissions on minority education and Muslim economic development should be set up, and the National Integration Council should be revived. Similarly, we want the economic situation of Christians to be assessed. We want Christians to be assisted and Dalit Christians be given their dignity and rights.
From a Christian point of view several issues remain unresolved: the National Minorities Commission is still hostile; adoption laws have not been passed; and violence continues unabated, particularly in BJP-ruled stares.
The report was given to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and sent to Congress.
It praises the current government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for their action to address expeditiously the failures of the Gujarat state government to halt Hindu-Muslim riots there in 2002. It noted that minority rights activists [have] reported that instances of communal violence decreased as a result”.
The report mentioned the 2002 riots in Gujarat , which ravaged the minority communities of the BJP-ruled state in 2002, where over 2,000 of them lost their lives due to communal violence.
The report commended the government for refusing to approve the Gujarat Control of Organised Crime Act, passed by the Gujarat legislature in June 2004, which Muslim groups feared would be used selectively against them.
The report informed the US Congress that the Indian government had also repealed the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act, often criticised by Muslim groups as a tool used to target them and noted that this draconian measure had been replaced with a law considered to be fairer to minorities.
The government also withdrew controversial school textbooks that had been condemned for espousing a Hindu nationalist agenda and replaced them with more moderate editions, the report said, but acknowledged that problems lingered in some states controlled by the opposition.