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US religious commission denied entry to India

By: Rahul Benjamin
Wednesday, 17 June 2009, 16:12 (IST)
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A US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) delegation has been denied visa to India. The panel - to monitor religious freedom and check restrictions on religious practices - was to travel India on June 12.

According to sources, the delegation despite having early booked the tickets, was forbidden entry, on fears that it would lead to severe criticism of the government, in the backdrop of growing violence on minorities.

The USCIRF had last month in its annual report put India's case as 'pending' and said it would publish the status of religious freedom in the country only after its visit in June. The team had mentioned its keen interest in investigating the Kandhamal and Gujarat riots.

It was done with intent of blocking the trip, commented an associate at the commission. "They knew we had tickets for June 12 and the visas are yet to be given, so the inference is obvious...they don’t want us to visit," the associate told The Times of India.

According to the national daily, Obama administration too did not press for the visit as US Undersecretary of State William Burns was in New Delhi, preparing ground for the visit to India by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in July.

The denial of visa in fact has come just days after a noted Hindu pontiff opposed to the investigation by a foreign delegation.

"We will not allow interference in our internal religious affairs by external bodies. We see it as an intrusive mechanism of a foreign government which is interfering with the internal affairs of India,” Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi, a noted Hindu religious leader said.

The Indian authorities however clarified that the criticism was not the cause for the visa denial. They also divulged that they did not care about what the USCIRF reported, but was only concerned that such a "high profile visit seen as having government sanctions would have raised hackles in India."

Joining Shankaracharya, some fanatic Hindu groups were also opposed to the visit by a US body. The World Hindu Council of America (VHP) called the proposed visit as "incomprehensible".

According to a statement released, India as the "largest functioning democracy in the world with an independent judiciary, a statutorily constituted Human rights Commission, an independent press and other supporting organizations would appear to be quite capable of taking care of the religious freedoms and human rights of its citizens."

"India not only offers freedom of religion under its constitution, but does not discriminate based on religion. Similar freedoms are not available in its neighboring countries," the VHP added.

Meanwhile, there would be no changes in the release of the USCIRF report on India during this summer. "If, for any reason, the travel does not occur, we will move ahead and release the chapter," Tala Eid, USCIRF Commissioner, told reporters last month.




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Have your say on this article

Added: Wednesday, 17 June 2009, 16:48 (IST)

It is true, having a foreign body coming to investigate our internal affairs is embarrassing. But why oppose? If we think we are on the right side and have been protecting minorities, let more such bodies come, see, praise, and report the same in their countries. If we claim to be secular and democratic, then we should let this body come and investigate to ascertain the facts on our beautiful country!! May God Bless India!!

Tito, India

Added: Wednesday, 17 June 2009, 17:42 (IST)

The government should not have denied visa. Not that our government is bad to the minorities but at least we could have avoided media using this as a tool to accuse the our country. There is no place as good as India to live.

Reenu, India

Added: Thursday, 18 June 2009, 9:29 (IST)

Why would this self righteous group want to come to India anyway? Why can't they visit Saudi Arabia or Pakistan and publish a report? Christians are safe in India but not in Saudi Arabia/ Pakistan/ Bangladesh. For thousands of years India was a refuge not only for Christians but for all world religions. How many countries have minorities as head of governments?

Chris, Toronto, Canada

Added: Friday, 19 June 2009, 21:10 (IST)

The USCIRF is a US political body appointed by the federal government and is a foreign policy tool of the US establishment to put diplomatic pressure on foreign governments. India has always had a consensus that foreign agencies of other governmnets will not be allowed and this move is consistent with that. What is new is that the UPA government agreed to allow the USCIRF to come to India before the elections to gain the minority vote and now that the elections have been won declined the visas as expected. This would not have been news if they had declined the visit routinely like they have done every year instead of the cynical manipulation this time for electoral gains.

Rich, USA

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