India witnessed religiously motivated killings in 2015: US

In 2015, India witnessed religiously motivated killings, assaults, coerced religious conversions, riots and actions restricting the right of individuals to change religious beliefs, a US State Department report on religious freedom said on Wednesday.

PTI| Last Updated: Aug 10, 2016, 20:58 PM IST
India witnessed religiously motivated killings in 2015: US

Washington: In 2015, India witnessed religiously motivated killings, assaults, coerced religious conversions, riots and actions restricting the right of individuals to change religious beliefs, a US State Department report on religious freedom said on Wednesday.

"Minority religious groups expressed concerns about government discrimination and suggestions by government officials that Hinduism should be taught in public schools. Government officials at the federal, state, and local level made discriminatory statements against members of religious minority groups," the annual State Department report on International Religious Freedom for the year 2015 said.

"Members of minority groups who were victims of religiously motivated violence or other animus complained of police inaction regarding such incidents," it said, adding that attackers frequently acted with impunity, and, according to some victims, police resisted filing criminal complaints and in several instances threatened to falsely incriminate the victims.

The State Department said religious groups expressed concern about statements by certain government officials suggesting Hinduism should be taught in schools.

"They also complained about police inaction in incidents of violence or hostility against their members and unequal application of some laws by the government. Religious groups reported incidents of hate speech by government officials," the report said.

According to the report, there were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, coerced religious conversions, riots, and actions restricting the right of individuals to change religious beliefs.

This happened despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pledge that he would ensure "complete freedom of faith" in the country.

This is the first time that the State Department has commented on the status of religious freedom in India with a full year under the Modi government.

"On several occasions, such as at a meeting in February with Christians in New Delhi, Prime Minister Modi publicly stated he would defend religious freedom," the State Department said in its report which documents the allegations of violence against the Christian community in various parts of the country including Punjab.

"Christians who reported that they were victims of religiously-motivated violence or other animus voiced concern about the lack of police action against such incidents, as well as of hostility by the police towards Christians.

"According to the All India Christian Council and the Evangelical Fellowship of India, police resisted filing criminal complaints and had in several instances threatened falsely to incriminate the victims," said the report.

The report said police clashes with Sikh protesters in Punjab led to the death of two protesters.

In the absence of Secretary of State John Kerry, the annual report was released by the Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Police arrested Christians under charges of forced conversions and disrupting the peace.

Legal cases related to religiously-motivated violence and riots continued to go forward, it said.

"Local authorities disrupted church services and exercised control over events organised by Christian groups. The central government declined to restore or pay compensation for religious buildings damaged in communal riots taking place in past years," it added.

The State Department said hundreds of legal cases related to the burning of a train and subsequent violence in Godhra, Gujarat in 2002, which resulted in the deaths of more than a thousand Muslims and Hindus, remained pending.

"An appeal by Zakia Jafri against a Gujarat High Court judgement not to pursue charges against state officials for their alleged role in the violence remained pending," it said.

Fast-track courts assembled for the purpose of trying cases related to 2008 anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal, Odisha continued to hear cases but did not issue any verdicts during the year, the report said.

According to the All India Christian Council, a total of 255 court cases pertaining to the Kandhamal violence remained pending.

On September 8, some of the Christian survivors of the Kandhamal violence held a press conference in New Delhi to discuss their fear of persecution, it said.

The State Department said the US embassy and consulates general continued to advocate tolerance, pluralism, and religious freedom in discussions with the country?s leadership, as well as with state and local officials.

"During his January visit, at a speech at a town hall event in New Delhi, and during remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, a few weeks later, President (Barack) Obama underscored the importance of religious freedom to India's success, urging it not to become ?splintered along the lines of religious faith," the report said.

"The US Special Representative to Muslim Communities also spoke on the importance of religious tolerance at a conference for countering online radicalisation and recruitment to violence during his visit to Delhi in November," it reported.

The US Department of State submits the report in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

In its last report for the year, the State Department had noted that there had been restrictions on "free expression" on basis of religion in India.