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UN rings Godhra alarm

New Delhi, Feb. 17: The United Nations has warned of a “very real risk” of a repeat of the 2002 Gujarat riots in the country unless politicians stop exploiting communal distinctions, in a report that presents a dim picture of religious intolerance in India.

The world body’s latest report on religious freedom paints India as a country suffering from communal divisions and mob-inspired persecution, and dwells at length on incidents like the recent violence against Christians in Orissa and the 2002 riots.

Scheduled to be discussed by the UN Human Rights Council on March 10, the report was prepared by special rapporteur on religion Asma Jahangir, a Pakistani human rights activist.

The UN prepares reports on various countries once in every decade. The last one on India was in 1996.

The report says the law enforcement machinery in India was “often reluctant” to take action against individuals or groups that “perpetrate violence” in the name of religion or belief.

“This institutionalised impunity for those who exploit religion and impose their religious intolerance on others has made peaceful citizens, particularly the minorities, vulnerable and fearful.”

After detailing the incidents of violence, it says “organised groups claiming roots in religious ideologies” had unleashed an “all-pervasive fear of mob violence in many parts of the country”.

On Gujarat, the report says the state government had done little to help victims who live in perpetual fear and insecurity and pointed to the “increasing ghettoisation and isolation of Muslims in certain areas”.

However, it has some good words, too, for India, citing the “positive impact of secularism as embodied in the Constitution” and the “high degree of human rights activism in the country”.

The report also praises several initiatives of the Congress-led government at the Centre, such as the Prime Minister’s 15-point programme for the welfare of minorities.

It also mentions reports that various committees — like the one headed by Justice Rajinder Sachar — had come out with, suggesting ways to improve the lot of minorities.

“Such committees mandated by the government are good examples of mechanisms put in place to analyse the situation and put forward recommendations for government action,” the UN report says.

The world body makes a series of recommendations to both the Centre and state governments. It says Dalit Christians and Muslims should also be given benefits of affirmative actions like reservation.

The report asks the government to act against “mob violence”. It encourages specific legislation to prevent communal attacks but cautions that the laws should take into account concerns of religious minorities so as not to reinforce the “impunity of communalised police forces at the state level”.

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