Orissa Christians reject USCIRF report, defends 'secular' India

Published 17 August 2009  |  
A US body's decision to put India on its Watch List was slammed by Christian leaders in Orissa who defended the secular credentials of the country.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) last week criticized India for its inadequate response in protecting religious minorities and placed it in the category of nations that includes countries like Afghanistan, Somalia and Cuba.

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

The 14-page report by the US Congressional Panel referred to 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, Christians say. The country's secular character "overpowered" a few communal elements and has restored peace, Archbishop Cheenath pointed to the PTI.

"What the Commission said is against our country's Constitution," he said, adding 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 (OMF) president Swarupananda Patra said India has been targets of hate campaign by a small section and the "civil society of the majority community has been extremely cordial and supportive."

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

An American-based Hindu organisation also came strongly against the USCIRF report which it termed as "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," Hindu American Foundation (HAF) in a statement said.

The HAF further also takes 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.


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