New Delhi: The US State Department has reported deterioration in religious freedom in India and cited cases of 'organised societal attacks' against minority groups in the country.
Noting that a vast majority of citizens of all religions lived in peaceful co-existence in India, the Bush administration also said that whenever there were attacks against minority religious groups, the state police and enforcement agencies often did not act swiftly enough to effectively counter such attacks.
"The Constitution (of India) provides for freedom of religion and the National Government generally respected this right in practice," the State Department said in its annual International Religious Freedom Report released on Friday.
Mandated by the US Congress to present an annual report on religious freedom around the world, the administration also speaks of terrorist violence and 'atrocities' against certain sections of people, including the Kashmiri Pandits, while pointing out that terrorists attempted to provoke inter-religious conflict by detonating bombs.
"Some state and local governments, including those of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh enacted or amended 'anti-conversion' laws during the reporting period. The Governor of Rajasthan, later elected to the Presidency, refused to sign her state's law, effectively nullifying it," the report cited.
"The vast majority of citizens of every religious group lived in peaceful co-existence; however, there were reports of organised societal attacks against minority religious groups. State police and enforcement agencies often did not act swiftly enough to effectively counter societal attacks," the report said.
Pakistan: Although the government has taken some steps to improve treatment of religious minorities, "discriminatory legislation and the government's failure to take action against societal forces hostile to those who practice minority faiths fostered religious intolerance, acts of violence, and intimidation against followers of certain religious groups."
Iraq: The report says religious freedom has sharply deteriorated in Iraq over the past year because of the insurgency and violence targeting people of specific faiths, despite the US military buildup intended to improve security.
The report found the violence is not confined to the well-known rivalry between Sunni and Shia Muslims. "The ongoing insurgency significantly harmed the ability of all religious believers to practise their faith," it said.
It found that members of all religions in Iraq are "victims of harassment, intimidation, kidnapping, and killings" and that "frequent sectarian violence included attacks on places of worship."
Muslims who practise less-strict versions of their faith suffer because "conservative and extremist Islamic elements exert tremendous pressure on society to conform to their interpretations of Islam's precepts," the report said.
Afghanistan: "Decades of war, years of Taliban rule, and weak democratic institutions, including a developing judiciary, have contributed to intolerance manifested in acts of harassment and violence against reform-minded Muslims and religious minorities."
Saudi Arabia: In a country where faiths other than Islam are illegal, which usually comes in for harsh criticism on lack of religious freedom, the report noted some positive progress.
"While overall government policies continue to place severe restrictions on religious freedom, there were some improvements in specific areas during the period covered by this report," it said, noting nascent moves that "could lead to important improvements in the future."
(With agency inputs)
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