Indian Christians Reject USCIRF Report; Defends 'Secular' India

( [email protected] ) Aug 18, 2009 10:58 AM EDT

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's decision to place India on its Watch List was slammed by Christian leaders in the state of Orissa.

Stating that India is truly secular in letter and spirit, Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar rejected USCIRF's report and said there should be "no doubt over the secular credentials of India."

USCIRF last week criticized India for its inadequate response in protecting religious minorities and placed it in the category of nations that require “close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the government.” The list also includes countries like Afghanistan, Somalia and Cuba.

The 14-page report by the U.S. panel cited last year's violence against Christians in Orissa and said it had "sparked a prolonged and destructive campaign targeting Christians, resulting in attacks against churches and individuals."

But this alone cannot substantiate what the report has claimed, Indian Christians say. The country's secular character "overpowered" a few communal elements and has restored peace, Archbishop Cheenath pointed out to the PTI.

"What the Commission said is against our country's Constitution," he said, adding that India believes in respecting all religions and one should not forget it "thrives on secular character since ages."

Expressing similar views, the Orissa Minority Forum president, Swarupananda Patra, said India has been the target of a hate campaign by a small section and the “civil society of the majority community has been extremely cordial and supportive."

The riots in Kandhamal district in Orissa and earlier in Gujarat must not be generalized to embarrass the strong secular foundation of the nation, another organization maintained.

An American-based Hindu organization also came strongly against the USCIRF report which it said contained “innate bias, lack of insight and absence of understanding."

"This is a country whose last President was Muslim, whose leader of the largest political party is Christian and whose Prime Minister is Sikh. In contrast, behold the shrill outcry when our own President Obama was alleged to be Muslim," the Hindu American Foundation said.

HAF further also took a dig at the core members of the USCIRF panel. "Six members are Christian, one is Jewish and one Muslim. Not a single non-Abrahamic faith is represented.”

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration on Friday refrained from making any comment on the USCIRF report, but said freedom of expression and religion was important for the United States.

"You know, freedom of expression and religious freedom we think are hallmarks of stable, progressive societies in the 21st century. It is obviously important to us," Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley said at the daily State Department press briefing.

USCIRF, an independent, bipartisan federal government commission, releases its annual report on religious freedom each May. This year, however, the India chapter was delayed because of a planned trip to India in June. A USCIRF delegation had planned to meet with officials, religious leaders and civil society activists to discuss religious freedom conditions but was denied visas for entry.