International Religious Freedom Report 2007 ---INDIA
(India is secular in papers only-editor)
International Religious Freedom Report 2007
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the National Government generally respected this right in practice. However, some state and local governments limited this freedom in practice.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the National Government during the period covered by this report and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion; however, problems remained in some areas. Some state governments enacted and amended "anti-conversion" laws and police and enforcement agencies often did not act swiftly enough to effectively counter societal attacks, including attacks against religious minorities. Despite Government efforts to foster communal harmony, some extremists continued to view ineffective investigation and prosecution of attacks on religious minorities, particularly at the state and local level, as a signal that they could commit such violence with impunity, although numerous cases were in the courts at the end of the reporting period. The National Government, led by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), continued to implement an inclusive and secular platform that included respect for the right to religious freedom.
Despite the National Government's rejection of "Hindutva," the ideology that espouses the inculcation of Hindu religious and cultural norms above other religious norms, it continued to influence some government policies and actions at the state and local levels. During the reporting period, the Government of Himachal Pradesh enacted a state-level "anti-conversion" law, which, similar to other laws of its kind, restricts and regulates religious proselytism. The law prohibits an individual from using "force, inducement, or fraudulent means" when contributing, in speech or conduct, to another individual's religious conversion. The Governments of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat amended their existing laws. The Governor of Rajasthan, later elevated to the Presidency, refused to sign her State's anti-conversion law, effectively nullifying it. Although these laws do not explicitly ban conversions, many Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) argue that in practice, "anti-conversion" laws, both by their design and implementation, infringe upon the individual's right to convert, favor Hinduism over minority religions, and represent a significant challenge to Indian secularism.
The vast majority of Indians of every religious group lived in peaceful coexistence; however, there were reports of organized societal attacks against minority religious groups, particularly in states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Some NGOs report that societal violence against religious minorities is part of a larger Hindu nationalist agenda and corresponds with ongoing state electoral politics.
Terrorists attempted to provoke interreligious conflict by detonating bombs in Hyderabad in May 2007, in Nanded (Central Maharashtra) in February 2007, in the Muslim majority town of Malegaon ( North Maharashtra ) in September 2006, and in commuter trains in Mumbai in July 2006.
During the reporting period, societal violence also continued between Hindus and Muslims over disputed places of worship. The Bhojshala complex in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh is one such case where, since 2002, both Hindus and Muslims have disputed the right of the other group to offer prayers.
Hundreds of court cases remained in connection with the 2002 Gujarat violence.
The U.S. Embassy and its consulates promoted religious freedom in their discussions with the country's senior leadership, as well as with state and local officials, and supported initiatives to encourage religious and communal harmony. During meetings with key leaders of all significant religious communities, U.S. senior officials discussed reports of harassment of minority groups, converts, and missionaries, as well as state-level legislation restricting conversion, the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, and the plight of displaced Kashmiri Pandits.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country has an area of 1.3 million square miles and a population of 1.1 billion. According to the 2001 Government census, Hindus constitute 80.5 percent of the population, Muslims 13.4 percent, Christians 2.3 percent, Sikhs 1.8 percent, and others, including Buddhists, Jains, Parsis (Zoroastrians), Jews, and Baha'is, 1.1 percent. Slightly more than 90 percent of Muslims are Sunni; the rest are Shi'a. Tribal groups (members of indigenous groups historically outside the caste system), which are generally included among Hindus in government statistics, often practiced traditional indigenous religions (animism).
Large Muslim populations are found in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala, and Muslims are the majority in Jammu and Kashmir . Christians are concentrated in the northeast, as well as in the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Goa . Three small northeastern states (Nagaland, Mizoram, and Meghalaya) have large Christian majorities. Sikhs are a majority in the state of Punjab .
There are Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh missionaries operating in the country.
Approximately 200 million persons or 17 percent of the population belong to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST, formerly called "untouchables"). Some converted from Hinduism to other religious groups, ostensibly to escape widespread discrimination.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the National Government generally respected this right in practice; however, some state and local governments limited this freedom by enacting or amending "anti-conversion" legislation, and by not efficiently or effectively prosecuting those who attacked religious minorities.
The country is a secular state with no official religion. The Constitution protects the right of individuals to choose or change their religion as well as practice the religion of one's choice. Many NGOs argue that state-level "anti-conversion" laws are unconstitutional and may reinforce the dominance of the Hindu majority. While the law generally provides remedy for violations of religious freedom, it was not enforced rigorously or effectively in many cases pertaining to religious-oriented violence. Legal protections existed to cover discrimination or persecution by private actors. The country's political system is federal and accords state governments the exclusive jurisdiction over law enforcement and the maintenance of order, which limits the national government's capacity to deal directly with state-level abuses, including abuses of religious freedom. The country's national law enforcement agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), cannot investigate a crime committed in a state without the State Government's permission. However, the National Government's law enforcement authorities, in some instances, have intervened to maintain order when state governments were reluctant or unwilling to do so.
The opposition BJP, the political wing of the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist organization, held power in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Uttarakhand and is part of the ruling coalition in Punjab, Karnataka, Bihar , and Orissa. Several NGOs alleged that during the reporting period, the BJP stoked communally sensitive matters as State elections grew near.
The Ministry for Minority Affairs, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) are governmental bodies created to investigate allegations of discrimination and make recommendations for redress to the relevant local or national government authorities. Although NHRC recommendations do not have the force of law, central and local authorities generally follow them. The NCM and NHRC intervened in several high profile cases, including the 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat and other instances of communal tension, the enactment of anti-conversion legislation in several states, and incidents of harassment and violence against minorities.
Federal and state laws that regulate religion include the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) of 1976, several state-level "anti-conversion" laws, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967, the Religious Institutions (Prevention of Misuse) Act of 1988, India 's Foreigners Act of 1946, and the Indian Divorce Act of 1869.
The FCRA regulates foreign contributions to NGOs, including faith-based NGOs. Some organizations complained that the FCRA prevented them from properly financing humanitarian and educational activities.
There are active "anti-conversion" laws in 4 of the 28 States: Orissa, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh; however there were no reports of convictions under these laws during the reporting period. Gujarat and Arunchal Pradesh have inactive "anti-conversion" laws awaiting accompanying regulations needed for enforcement. In September 2006 the Gujarat State Assembly passed an amendment to make further clarifications on the provisions of the law, but the Governor did not take action by the end of the reporting period. The Rajasthan law passed the State Assembly during the previous reporting period, but was refused twice by the Governor and forwarded to the President on June 20, 2007, for legal review and guidance on its constitutional merit.
The Orissa Freedom of Religion Act of 1967 states, "No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by inducement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion." The law defines force as "a show of force or a threat for injury of any kind including threat of divine displeasure or social excommunication", fraud as "misrepresentation or any other fraudulent contrivance" and inducement as "the offer of any gift or gratification, either in cash or in kind and shall also include the grant of any benefit, either pecuniary or otherwise." Individuals breaking the law are subject to penalties such as imprisonment, a fine, or both. These penalties are harsher if the offence involves minors, women, or a person belonging to SC/ST. The law also requires that District Magistrates maintain a list of religious organizations and individuals propagating religious beliefs, that individuals intending to convert provide a declaration before a Magistrate, that priests declare the intent to officiate in a conversion ceremony, and that police officers determine if there are objections to a given conversion. There were no reports of district magistrates denying permission for religious conversions or of convictions under the Act during the period covered by this report.
Under current provisions in the states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, it is prohibited "to convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion." Such an offense is punishable with a maximum of two years' imprisonment, and a maximum fine of $220 (8,800 INR), with harsher penalties in the case of children, women, or members of SC/ST. In July 2006, the states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh enacted changes to their existing laws. These require that an individual planning on converting obtain prior permission from district authorities. Christians intending to "reconvert" to Hinduism do not have to fulfill this requirement. The amendments became void in January 2007; the respective Governors did not approve the bills before then.
The State Assembly passed the Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 2006 in December 2006 and the Governor signed into law on February 19, 2007. The law is unique because the secular Congress party generated and passed it, while states ruled by the BJP enacted all of the other "anti-conversion" laws. The law states, "No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion to another by the use of force or by inducement or by any other fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion". The law stipulates punishment of up to two years' imprisonment and/or a fine of $625 (25,000 INR). If SC/ST members or minors are involved, five years' imprisonment and/or $1,250 (50,000 INR) fine is the penalty. Any members of a religious group wishing to change his or her religious beliefs is required to give 30 days prior information to district authorities or otherwise face punishment of one month imprisonment and/or $25 (1,000 INR) fine. However, returning back to a previous religious group is not considered violating this law.
The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) of 1967 empowers the Government to ban religious organizations that provoke intercommunity friction, have been involved in terrorism or sedition, or violated the 1976 FCRA.
There were no requirements for religious groups to be licensed in the country; however, the Government prohibits foreign missionaries of any religious group from entering the country without prior clearance, and usually expels those who perform missionary work without the correct visa. Long established foreign missionaries generally can renew their visas, but the Government has not admitted new resident foreign missionaries since the mid-1960s. There is no national law barring a citizen or foreigner from professing or propagating religious beliefs; however, the country's Foreigners Act prohibits speaking publicly against the religious beliefs of others, as it is deemed dangerous to public order. The Act prohibits visitors on tourist visas from preaching without prior permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and West Bengal have laws regulating the construction of public religious buildings and the use of public places for religious purposes.
On July 21, 2006, the Kerala High Court ruled that taking an official oath in the name of Allah is constitutionally valid. Observing that Allah is synonymous with God, the High Court dismissed a writ petition challenging the constitutional validity of the oath taken by 11 Muslim members of the Kerala Legislative Assembly who had used the name of Allah.
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 lists offenses, including those pertaining to religious duties and practices, against disadvantaged persons and provides for stiff penalties for offenders.
Article 17 of the Constitution outlawed untouchability; however, members of lower castes remained in a disadvantageous position. The Government continued to implement a quota system which reserved government jobs and seats in higher education institutions for SC/ST members belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist religions, but not for Christians or Muslims.
Christian groups filed a court case demanding that SC/ST converts to Christianity and Islam enjoy the same access to "reservations" as other SC/STs and argued that Christian SC/STs suffer from the same caste-based socio, economic and political stigmas and discrimination. The usual counter argument is that there is no caste system in Christianity and, therefore, no need to extend reservations to SC/ST Christians. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which had not ruled by the end of the reporting period. Reservations existed in Andhra Pradesh for followers of Islam.
Under Article 25 of the Constitution, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists are considered sects of Hinduism; however, these groups continue to view themselves as unique religions and sought to introduce their own separate personal laws. Sikhs have sought a separately codified body of law to legally recognize their uniqueness and preclude ambiguity. The 1992 National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Act identified Buddhism as a separate religion. The Supreme Court rejected the inclusion of Jains under the NCM Act, stating that the practice of adding new religious groups as minorities should be discouraged.
There are different personal status laws for the various religious communities, and the legal system accommodates religion-specific laws in matters of marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance. The Government grants a significant amount of autonomy to personal status law boards in crafting these laws. There is a Hindu law, a Christian law, a Parsi law, and a Muslim law - all legally recognized and judicially enforceable. None of these are exempt from national and state level legislative powers and social reform obligations as laid down in the Constitution.
The Indian Divorce Act of 2001 limits inheritance, alimony payments, and property ownership of persons from interfaith marriages and prohibits their use of churches to celebrate marriage ceremonies in which one party is a non-Christian. Clergymen who contravene its provisions could face up to ten years' imprisonment. However, the act does not bar interfaith marriages in other places of worship.
The Government permits private religious schools, but does not permit religious instruction in government schools. The Government may prescribe merit-based admission for religious colleges that receive public funding, while those that do not may use their own criteria, including religious affiliation.
Many Hindu sects have established schools, although they did not receive aid from the state. Most Islamic madrassahs did not accept government aid, alleging that it would subject them to stringent security clearance requirements. Educational institutions given "minority status" by the Government are not eligible for government aid.
The West Bengal Government administers most undergraduate and post-graduate sections of madrassahs in the state and the state's Public Service Commission hires madrassah teachers and regulates their curriculum. Approximately 25 percent of the 400,000 students attending madrassahs in West Bengal and 15 percent of their 10,000 teachers are non-Muslims.
The Government's National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) publishes textbooks that are uniformly used in government and private schools and printed in various languages. In 2007 the Government released new NCERT textbooks which it asserted more accurately portrayed minority religious groups, among other changes, and restored the secular character of education; however, some schools have not yet received the textbooks.
In 2004 Parliament passed a bill creating the National Commission for Minority Education Institutions and in March 2006, it empowered the Commission to resolve disputes and investigate complaints regarding violations of minority rights, including the right to establish and administer educational institutions.
The major holy days of the country's predominant religious groups are also considered national holidays, including Good Friday and Christmas (Christian); the two Eids (Muslim); Lord Buddha's birthday (Buddhist); Guru Nanak's Birthday (Sikh); Dussehra, Diwali, and Holi (Hindu); and the Birthday of Lord Mahavir (Jain).
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
No religious organizations were banned under UAPA during the reporting period. The Government renewed the ban on the Student Islamic Movement of India on February 15, 2007, for the fourth time, based on concerns about terrorism. In 2005 the Government extended the ban on the Muslim group Deendar Anjuman until 2007.
In contrast to previous years, the Gujarat Charity Commissioner did not request financial statements from faith-based charities.
During the reporting period, press reports documented the activities of foreign missionaries who entered on tourist visas and illegally proselytized. Foreigners with tourist visas who engage in missionary activity are subject to deportation and possible criminal prosecution. Foreigners are responsible for requesting the correct type of visa; generally, there are no provisions for changing a person's immigration category once admitted.
The Government maintained a list of banned books that may not be imported or sold in the country because they contain material that governmental censors deem inflammatory and could provoke communal or religious tensions. The Rajasthan Government continued to ban the books Haqeeqat (The Truth) and Ve Sharm Se Hindu Kahate Hain Kyon? (Why Do They Say With Shame They Are Hindus?) for alleged blasphemy against Hindu gods.
In February 2007 cinema owners and distributors in Gujarat refused to screen the film "Parzania," depicting the sufferings of a Parsi family during the 2002 violence, out of fear of rekindling communal tensions and retaliation by the Hindu right, especially Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi of Ahmedabad. Hindutva groups in Gujarat , where the 2002 violence took place, had threatened to attack theaters that showed the film. The Indian Censor Board had already approved the film for countrywide distribution and the film was shown elsewhere in the country.
Buddhist monks questioned the non-Buddhist control of management of the 1,500 year old Mahabodhi temple in Bihar 's Bodh Gaya. The monks also accused non-Buddhists of chopping off a branch of the holy Mahabodhi tree. The monks requested that the Government hand over management of the temple to them by amending the Mahabodhi Temple Management Act.
Missionaries and foreign religious organizations must comply with the FCRA, which limits overseas assistance to certain NGOs, including ones with religious affiliations.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
While there were no reports accusing the National Government of committing abuses of religious freedom, human rights activists criticized it for alleged indifference and inaction in the face of abuses committed by state and local authorities and private citizens.
The opposition party BJP, the RSS, and other affiliated organizations (collectively known as the Sangh Parivar) claimed to respect and tolerate other religious groups. However, the RSS opposed conversions from Hinduism and expressed the view that all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliation, should adhere to Hindu cultural values. During the reporting period, the BJP continued to advocate for contentious measures such as the passage of "anti-conversion" legislation in all states in the country, the construction of a Hindu temple in the Ayodhya site, and the enactment of a uniform civil code.
The BJP was associated with some instances of dissemination of information promoting religious intolerance. On April 11, 2007, the BJP released a widely criticized Compact Disk (CD) as part of its Uttar Pradesh election campaign material. The National Commission for Minorities called upon the National and State Governments to take serious note of offensive depictions of the Muslim community contained in the CD. The BJP claimed to have withdrawn the CD, however, its contents were published and broadcast by the media. The circulation of such material appeared in the wake of similarly provocative leaflets surfacing in different parts of the country. The Election Commission notified the BJP and filed cases against those involved in the matter under the Representation of People's Act.
In the state of Karnataka, Christian and human rights groups reported increased attacks and harassment following the formation of a coalition government that includes the BJP.
On February 20, 2007, a local BJP leader, Panat Ram, and his followers allegedly attacked three pastors of the Believers' Church while they were holding a prayer meeting in Raigarh district, Chhattisgarh. Elisha Baker, Balbir Kher, and Nan Sai were slightly injured. Panat Ram also tried to register a complaint against the pastors for engaging in conversion activities. Police investigated the complaint but found it unsubstantiated, and did not register a First Information Report (FIR) against the pastors.
On November 9, 2006, a local BJP politician and party workers allegedly attacked six Christians at a village meeting in Bastar, Chhattisgarh. According to the Christians, police refused to file an FIR against the attackers.
On October 10, 2006, the Chhattisgarh BJP government reportedly closed a government-financed, Christian-operated child nutrition services center in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh.. The government fired 17 employees of the center on suspicion of engaging in conversion activities.
According to religious media outlets, on December 4, 2006, a sub-inspector of police in Kondapur, Andra Pradesh, assaulted a group of Christians displaying a religious film. Reportedly, the officer disrupted the viewing despite the fact that the village head had granted permission to the Christian community.
On August 19, 2006, police officers allegedly pressured a Christian convert to re-convert back to Hinduism in Devangere, Karnataka.
In August 2006 in Radhanpur, Gujarat , police firing killed three people (two Muslims and one Hindu) during protests by Muslims of the local administration's action to breach the wall of a Muslim cemetery to let flooding waters subside.
According to reports, on July 16, 2006, the police in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh physically assaulted a Christian convert allegedly, at the behest of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) members.
In July 2006 in Bhiwandi, while dispersing a rioting mob of Muslim protestors, Maharashtra police killed two Muslims. Two Hindu policemen were subsequently lynched by rioters in a dispute between a Muslim organization and the police over the construction of a police station adjacent to a Muslim cemetery. The mob burned several buses of a local public transport company and 18 people were injured, including 12 policemen.
There were reports of arrests under state-level "anti-conversion" laws and other restrictive laws during the reporting period.
On April 5, 2007, authorities in Andhra Pradesh arrested three pastors and filed cases under IPC 295A and 298 for hurting religious sentiments. Local residents alleged that the pastors led 26 foreign tourists, including several Americans, into the Chikadpally slum in Hyderabad where they engaged in conversions, and made derogatory remarks against Hindu Gods.
On March 20, 2007, Bangalore police arrested two Christian missionaries, including one American citizen, for allegedly making slanderous statements ridiculing Hindu deities. Both missionaries were released on bail the next day.
According to reports, in December 2006 the Bajrang Dal allegedly assaulted a pastor and 20 other Christians in Chhattisgarh who were singing Christmas carols. Five individuals were seriously injured. The pastor and 10 others were subsequently arrested for forcibly converting others.
According to religious media, on September 21, 2006, a day after the Gujarat State Assembly passed an amendment to the 2003 "anti-conversion law," a group of extremists attacked eight Christians belonging to the Indian Missionary Society. The Christians filed a complaint against nine attackers and the police sub-inspector for physical abuse. Subsequently, authorities arrested the attacked on charges of engaging in forced conversions and carrying weapons.
There were 11 reported arrests under the Madhya Pradesh "anti-conversion" law. This compares with 20 arrested during the previous reporting period. However, there were no convictions and all those arrested were released on bail with their cases pending. Faith-based NGOs and the media indicated that authorities arrested 4 people in Andhra Pradesh, 14 in Chhattisgarh, 28 in Madhya Pradesh, 2 in Orissa, and 1 in Uttar Pradesh during the previous reporting period. Many of these cases involved societal attacks on Christians or their property, and in some cases, police brutality was reported. In one instance, the attacked were reportedly arrested instead.
The Government, in response to a Delhi high court ruling in connection with the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, paid $3,075 (123,000 INR) to several persons injured during the riots. In March 2007 a Delhi high court convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment three persons - Harprasad Bhardwaj, RP Tiwari, and Jagdish Giri - for lynching a Sikh policeman, his son, and another relative during the anti-Sikh riots. Two other co-accuseds were acquitted due to insufficient evidence. The court also fined each convict $125 (5,000 INR). In May 2005 a Delhi court also sentenced five individuals to life imprisonment for murder in connection with the riots.
The Government did not take any action during the reporting period to open cases against Minister Jagdish Tytler and Member of Parliament Sajjan Kumar, who were named in the Nanavati Commission's 2005 report on the 1984 massacre. According to the CBI, there is little evidence against Tytler and Kumar.
In May 2006 despite Muslim community protests, the Vadodara City Government demolished a 300-year-old shrine in Gujarat . While dispersing a mob of Muslim protestors, the Gujarat police killed two Muslims. The mob set four shops on fire in retaliation. Three Hindus were also stabbed to death in the mob violence and a group of Hindus set one Muslim man on fire. The Home Ministry deployed paramilitary forces and the army to assist local security personnel. The media reported that 6 persons were killed and 42 injured, 16 as a result of police fire. The NCM urged the State Government to ascertain if police firing was unavoidable and if the decision to destroy the shrine was justified. During the reporting period, the Gujarat Government did not take any steps to restore the shrine.
Press reported that in January 2006, 10 persons were injured after the demolition of the Christ Mission Ashram church in south Calcutta , West Bengal , in a clash between church members and Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority workers. The government later allotted alternate land to the mission to relocate the church and its facilities.
Police and state authorities took timely steps to end the violence and curb mob actions during outbreaks of politically-motivated religious tension in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat in early 2006.
In 2006 police launched a judicial inquiry into clashes between Hindu and Muslim residents in Uttar Pradesh. An NCM investigation determined that the Uttar Pradesh administration initially did not take appropriate steps to prevent the violence.
Between May and October 2005, communal riots in Uttar Pradesh resulted in the deaths of 7 persons and wounding of 36, including 8 police officers. In October 2005 the Uttar Pradesh Government convened a three-member committee to determine the cause of the riots and filed charges against BJP politicians Mukhtar Ansari and Ramji Singh for inciting communal discord. The committee also reported that BJP Member of Parliament Yogi Adityanath had a role in instigating the communal clashes, but did not file charges against him.
Allegations of forced conversion and "defamation of Hinduism" led to harassment of Emmanuel Ministries International (EMI), a large charitable organization in Rajasthan by members of the Sangh Parivar. In February 2006 the Rajasthan Government revoked the licenses of EMI-owned charities such as a bible institute, orphanage, school, hospital, and church. In March 2006 the Department of Social Welfare of Rajasthan froze the organization's bank accounts. In June 2006 the Jaipur High Court instructed the State Government to show cause regarding the closing of the EMI property and instructed the accounts to be unfrozen. See section on Societal Abuses.
Authorities held EMI President Samuel Thomas in judicial custody from March 17 to May 2, 2006, for hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus. Thomas was later charged with sedition in May 2006 for the use of a map on an EMI-affiliated website that did not include Jammu and Kashmir as part of the country. The Supreme Court granted Thomas bail, but restricted his travel. By the end of this reporting period, the sedition charges had not been dropped.
In June 2006, according to religious media, policemen verbally and physically abused four tribal Christians in Maharashtra who tried to follow up on a FIR. The four were then charged with breach of peace. A police inquiry into the case resulted in the removal of one police officer. No further action had been taken by the end of the reporting period.
In May 2006 in Punjab , after protests by Delhi All-India Christian Council (AICC) leaders, police arrested three Hindu extremists for a raid on an Easter Day event, in which they threatened worshippers and vandalized property. When the pastor attempted to register a FIR, the Senior Superintendent of Police at first told him that permission from the district magistrate was required, but later recanted and permitted the services.
There was continued concern about the failure of the Gujarat Government to arrest and convict those responsible for the widespread communal violence in 2002. Home Ministry figures released in May 2005 indicated that 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus were killed, and 2,500 others injured. Some NGOs maintained the number of Muslims killed was higher, with figures ranging anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500. There were also reports of rape, gang rape, and molestation of Muslim women. According to an October 2005 survey by the NHRC monitoring committee, approximately 4,300 Muslim families (between 25,000 - 30,000 individuals) were still internally displaced and living in makeshift camps with inadequate infrastructure facilities. People told the committee that they feared retaliation by their Hindu neighbors if they returned to their native villages. They also feared that Hindu neighbors would pressure them to withdraw their complaints filed in connection with the 2002 violence.
In March 2006 the government-established commission headed by Justice Banerjee issued a report stating that the train fire was an accident and ruled out a Muslim conspiracy. The commission also accused the then-railway-Minister and the Railway Safety Commission of failing to adequately investigate the accident. The Gujarat High Court initially prevented the release of the report to Parliament; however, Indian Railways petitioned the Indian Supreme Court for its release, an appeal that was ongoing at the end of the reporting period.
During the reporting period, the Nanavati-Shah commission, established in April 2002, continued its hearings into the Gujarat 2002 violence. It has received six month extensions on a regular basis and its current term is scheduled to end December 2007.
In its February 2006 response to the Supreme Court, the Gujarat police said that it would reexamine 1,600 of the 2,108 cases that were closed after the riots. However, during the reporting period, the Gujarat police had closed as many as 1,600 cases, citing the unavailability of witnesses.
During the previous reporting period, the Gujarat police registered 13 new riot-related cases and arrested 640 accused between August 2004 and February 2006. However, accused individuals were acquitted in several other cases because of lack of evidence or changes in testimony. During the reporting period, several fresh FIRs were registered on the basis of sworn affidavits of victims. On the basis of these affidavits, two prominent accused persons were arrested--Mahant Parshottamgiri Goswami, a high priest of a Hindu sub-sect in Vadodara, and Rajesh Katara, the son of Dahod BJP MP Babubhai Katara.
According to a report submitted by the Government to a UN agency in October 2006, 6 cases relating to 2002 violence resulted in convictions, whereas 182 cases resulted in acquittals. Human rights groups contend that, barring the few high-profile cases the Indian Supreme Court is directly supervising, the majority of the accused would not be convicted.
In October 2005 "fast track" courts in Gujarat sentenced 5 persons to life imprisonment for the murder of 12 Muslims during the riot period. The courts sentenced others to three years' imprisonment and ordered them to pay a fine of $11 (500 INR) each, which they had not paid by the end of the reporting period. Local courts acquitted 107 of 113 persons arrested for killing 2 Muslims, and indicted 39 police officers for riot-related conduct..
The Bilkis Bano case continued its hearings in a Mumbai court during the reporting period. In February 2006 a special court in Mumbai convicted 9 persons of the murder of 14 Muslims in the Best Bakery case and sentenced them to life in prison. The court acquitted another eight. Many human rights groups continue to argue that, despite the Best Bakery verdict, those responsible for the 2002 Gujarat violence will go unpunished. Primary witness Zahira Shaikh was sentenced to one year imprisonment and fined an estimated $1,200 (48,000 INR) for perjury. She served her prison sentence; the Supreme Court waived the fine.
In June 2005 the Central Prevention Of Terrorism Act (POTA) Review Committee recommended that POTA charges be dropped against many Muslims in connection with the Gujarat violence due to insufficient evidence; however, at the end of the reporting period the charges were still in effect. Approximately, 150 Muslim youth remain in detention under POTA in Gujarat (the majority of them accused in the Godhra train burning case).
In March 2005 Gujarat police detained at least 400 persons to prevent Hindu-Muslim clashes during the Shi'a Muslim day of mourning (Muharram); the same month, Muslims called off a Muharram procession in Vadodara to prevent potential clashes with Hindus. Throughout the reporting period, Muharram processions took place peacefully in Gujarat .
Since an organized insurgency erupted in Jammu and Kashmir in 1989, there have been numerous reports of human rights abuses by security forces, local officials, and separatists. It remained difficult to separate religion and politics in Kashmir; Kashmiri separatists were predominantly Muslim, and almost all the higher ranks as well as most of the lower ranks in the Indian military forces stationed there were non-Muslim. The vast majority of the 61,000 member Jammu and Kashmir police force was Muslim. Kashmiri Hindus remained vulnerable to violence. Most lived in refugee camps outside of the valley awaiting safe return. In May 2004 and 2005 and in April 2006 the Jammu and Kashmir Government allowed a procession of separatist groups to mark the anniversary of the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversions, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States , or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States .
Authorities arrested numerous Christians under state-level "anti-conversions" laws during the reporting period for allegedly engaging in conversions by force, allurement, or fraud. (For more information, see Abuses section.) Hindu nationalist organizations frequently alleged that Christian missionaries lured low-caste Hindus with offers of free education and healthcare and equated such actions with forced conversions. Christians responded that low-caste Hindus convert of their own free will and that efforts by Hindu groups to "re-convert" these new Christians to Hinduism were themselves accompanied by offers of remuneration and thus, fraudulent.
Persecution by Terrorist Organizations
Terrorist groups perpetrated atrocities against civilians, including minority Hindu members of the Pandit (Hindu Brahmin) community, in the long-lasting insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir , including car bombings, forced housing of terrorists, executions, and sexual assaults. Retaliatory killings by terrorists were also common. Security forces used targeted but at times excessive force to suppress them, with civilians frequently the main victims.
Terrorists attempted to provoke interreligious conflict by detonating bombs.
In May 2007 12 persons were killed and 40 injured when a bomb exploded during Friday prayers at the Mecca mosque in the Charminar area in Hyderabad .
Investigations are ongoing and a few persons were arrested for questioning.
In February 2007 in Nanded ( Central Maharashtra ), two alleged bomb-makers died when their bombs exploded.
In September 2006 in the Muslim majority town of Malegaon ( North Maharashtra ) on the eve of an important Shi'a festival, 38 people died, and more than 100 were injured due to a series of bomb explosions in and around a mosque.
On August 16, 2006, during the celebrations of the birth of Lord Krishna, a powerful bomb explosion killed five persons and injured many others at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness temple in Imphal, Manipur. The shrine was crowded with devotees, including foreigners, when the blast took place. Manipur police are still investigating the case. Manipur has a number of insurgent underground groups that perpetrate violence on civilians.
On July 11, 2006, in Mumbai, a series of bombs exploded in commuter trains killing approximately 200 people and injuring over 700, as part of a terrorist campaign to incite widespread Hindu/Muslim rioting and destroy the India/Pakistan peace initiative.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
The Prime Minister's Office released the Sachar Report, a study on the socio-economic status of Muslims in the country, during the reporting period. It presented data documenting that Muslims lagged behind the general public in many social indicators. In January 2007 based on this report, the UPA government directed all banks to provide preferential loans to minorities. Furthermore, in April 2007 the Prime Minister said that efforts would be made to ensure women and minorities are "properly represented" at all levels in government.
In March 2007 the National Government announced it would pay approximately $8,100 (324,000 INR) in additional compensation to the next of kin of persons killed in the 2002 Gujarat violence. The compensation supplements the $4,651 (186,040 INR) compensation already paid by the Government of Gujarat for each victim. However, there was no timetable for when these compensation amounts will be paid.
In May 2007 the National Government moved a Constitution Amendment Bill to grant Constitutional status to the National Minorities Commission.
The Gujarat State Government banned an anti-Christian rally announced by the VHP and the RSS, planned for Christmas Day of 2006 in the Dangs district of Gujarat. The rally was organized in response to the desecration of eight Hindu religious statues by unknown persons on December 14, 2006. Christian groups petitioned the government to ban the rally. </
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