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Compass Direct (05/16/06) – Christians weary of a multifaceted, state-backed assault on them were disappointed by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) failure to include India in its 2006 recommendations as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC).

The USCIRF recommended the U.S. State Department keep India off the CPC list despite acknowledging that “concerns about religious freedom in India remain, particularly indications that attacks on Christian churches and individuals persist – in some areas at alarmingly high levels – without adequate prosecution.”

In a May 3 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the commission noted that the state of Rajasthan, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been the scene of recent, serious attacks on Christian individuals and institutions by members of extremist groups espousing Hindu nationalism.

The state department will make its 2006 CPC designations in September. Last year it removed India from the designation as a CPC made in 2004.

Pointing to at least 75 incidents of anti-Christian attacks so far this year, Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council (AICC), said religious freedom in India was far from satisfactory.

“It is time for all of us, in India and abroad, to fully understand the magnitude of the havoc that militant wings of the Sangh Parivar (family of Hindu extremist groups) are inflicting on the federal character of India ,” he said.

Dayal said the BJP was clearly seeking to polarize religious communities and victimize minorities in the seven states ruled by it. This is “in violation of constitutional directives, against the policies of the federal government and in complete disregard of the secular character and heritage of the country.”

In the BJP-ruled state of Rajasthan, he said, there was hardly any law and order. “Action against Christians, including the passing of the so-called Freedom of Religion Bill, is just one of the many practices that crush human rights,” Dayal said.

The Rajasthan state assembly on April 7 passed the anti-conversion bill – similar legislation is used in other states to harass Christians legally sharing their faith – after accusing, prosecuting and harassing Emmanuel Mission International (EMI) in Kota district for publishing a book, Haqeekat (The Truth), which allegedly denigrated Hindu gods.

EMI president Bishop Samuel Thomas and several other EMI workers were arrested and later released on bail. The Registrar of Societies also cancelled the registrations of all EMI institutions on the pretext of procedural violations. Bank accounts were also frozen and remained so at press time.

Archbishop M.A. Thomas, EMI’s founder, has been underground ever since Hindu extremists offered a reward of $26,000 each for the heads of Thomas and his son Samuel Thomas.

The BJP and its political allies still control state governments in Rajasthan, Orissa, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Bihar , where incidence of anti-Christian violence has reportedly increased over the past two years.

A survey conducted by the Madhya Pradesh Christian Association and the National Forum for Reconciliation, Religious Liberty and Social Justice early this year noted that violent attacks against Christians had increased by 45 percent during the last two years of the rule of the BJP in Madhya Pradesh.

Dr. Babu Joseph, spokesman of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, told Compass, “The decision of the U.S. [commission] to exclude India from the list of CPCs is based on their reading of the situation in India . But, given the totality of the religious freedom picture of India , there are still areas of serious concern to minority communities.”

No Nonsense

The USCIRF stated that it was “closely” monitoring religious freedom in India .

India was designated a CPC in 2004, due to a series of violent actions against Muslims and Christians that took place under the rule of the BJP government. In 2005, however, the commission recommended that India be excluded from the CPC list due to the defeat of the BJP government in 2004 general elections.

In recommending that India remain off the CPC list this year, the USCIRF noted that the country’s Supreme Court had moved to bring to justice those who had killed as many as 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat state in 2002. It also stated that school textbooks that had been revised and published under the BJP were replaced in 2005.

“In addition,” the commission said, “the government has continued to act decisively in several volatile situations in the past year to prevent communal violence in circumstances where it has erupted in the past, most notably following the bombings in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi in early 2006, reportedly carried out by Islamist extremist groups.”

Authorized by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the USCIRF monitors freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief in countries outside the U.S. and gives independent policy recommendations to the President, the secretary of state and Congress.

The commission recommends the designation of a country as a CPC if there are reported systematic, ongoing and serious violations of religious freedom. The designation is then made by the U.S. State Department and can be followed by U.S. diplomatic and economic actions.

Awarding CPC status to a country obligates the U.S. government to examine trade and other relationships with that country and advocate for improved treatment of religious minorities.

Dayal urged people of all communities to make clear that they would not tolerate “any nonsense that mocks the secular heritage of the country.”

“The international community also has an obligation,” he added.

The rights of low-caste Dalits are routinely crushed in Rajasthan, Dayal added. “Orissa, Gujarat , Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand states follow close behind,” he said.

An AICC fact-finding mission to Rajasthan’s Kota district on March 18-20 found that the state was harassing Christians due to pressure from the ruling BJP (see Compass Direct, “ BJP Pressured State to Harass Christians, Panel Finds,” March 21). It submitted its report to the prime minister.

In Orissa, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) converted at least 344 tribal Christians to Hinduism on April 9. Although police were present, they took no action to enforce Orissa state anti-conversion laws that require official permission for such events. The RSS had set a target of reconverting over 10,000 people.

Observers said intense media scrutiny lowered conversion numbers. (See Compass Direct, “RSS Converts over 300 Christians in Orissa,” April 12).

In Gujarat , the RSS conducted a massive rally from February 11-13 to see “reconversion” of thousands of tribal Christians in Dangs district. On the final day, the organizers led a 60,000-strong crowd to repeat, “I will save my religion,” and the throng often shouted, “Jai Shri Ram (Praise be to the god Rama).”

The assembly resolved to “save” the Hindu religion and Bharat Mata (Mother India goddess) by “reconverting” Christians (see Compass Direct, “Event shows extent of fear of Christianity,” February 14). Before the rally, organizers distributed CDs and literature asking local tribals to destroy Christian faith like Hindu god Rama killed demon Ravana (see Compass Direct, “Hindu Extremists Plan Massive ‘Reawakening’ Event,” January 12).