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Allow us to visit India: U.S. panel on religious freedom

The chair of a high-profile Congressional commission on religious freedom has asked the Indian government to reconsider its view to withhold permission for the commission members to visit the country to assess the state of religious tolerance.
In an interview with The Hindu, Katrina Lantos-Swett, Chairperson of the U.S. Congress-established Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said, “I would also say that we would really welcome the opportunity to travel to India and we’ve been saddened that until now India has not been yet ready to welcome a USCIRF delegation to come for a visit.”

Under her leadership and Congressional mandate, USCIRF continues to produce an annual report on the state of religious freedom worldwide, which in years past had designated India as a “Tier II” or “watch-list” country.
Dr. Lantos-Swett’s comments are significant in the context of two recent occasions on which U.S. President Barack Obama has remarked upon the dangers of religious intolerance for India, a view that Mr. Modi appeared to cognise in February, when he condemned of religious-based violent acts in the country.
On those remarks by Mr. Obama, Dr. Lantos-Swett appeared to differ from State Department officials, who suggested that the President did not specifically intend to critique India’s religious tolerance and that it was a general observation.
The Commissioner said that she did not believe that the recent meetings between Mr. Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were any indication that U.S. concerns as a country regarding religious freedom issues in India have gone away, rather that the White House aspired to being able to “speak out about concerns that exist with respect to the robust protection of religious freedom” in India, even as the bilateral rapprochement deepens simultaneously.
She also addressed the question of what the U.S. administration’s view on the role of Mr. Modi in improving religious tolerance in India was, and whether Washington’s view had changed on the allegations linking Mr. Modi to the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat.
Speaking on behalf of USCIRF she said, “We believe, and many other continue to believe, that not all the questions have been fully answered about the tragic events that happened in Gujarat. There are people in India who continue to believe that there remain unanswered questions. There may also be some cases that are continuing to work their way through the legal process.”
Dr. Lantos-Swett added, “Success has a way of shifting the gaze and re-focusing people’s attention elsewhere… [but] the arc of justice is long,” and that the right of victims to compensation as well as the assigning of responsibility for violence will not “evaporate simply as a result of Mr. Modi’s election.”
The Commissioner also underscored the U.S.’ concerns regarding continuing violations of religious freedom rights of minorities in India, including attacks on churches in New Delhi, reports that “Hindu nationalists forced some Christians and Muslims to convert,” and the police detention of activists, including John Dayal, who were protesting the church attacks

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