Monday, 30th October 2017

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No. 2 tag for religious hostilities

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 31.12.09
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New Delhi, Dec. 30: A US think tank has marked India the world’s second-worst country when it comes to hostile acts faced by religious groups (minorities), but has appreciated that private outfits and not government policy is to blame.

The findings by Pew Research Center come four months after the US Commission on International Religious Freedom placed India on its watch list for the first time, citing the 2002 Gujarat riots and the attacks on Christians in Orissa’s Kandhamal last year.

Unlike the commission, the Pew study on “Global Restrictions on Religion” classifies religious restrictions into two categories.

“Some restrictions result from government actions, policies and laws. Others result from hostile acts by private individuals, organisations and social groups,’’ it says.

The study has found India politically progressive with very little government-induced religious restrictions, and ranked it 40th out of 198 nations.

But it has also found India socially regressive, and cited Gujarat and Orissa to rank it 197 — only above Iraq — in the “Social Hostilities Index”. Even Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia fare better in this category.

“Among the world’s 25 most populous countries, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and India stand out as having the most restrictions when both measures are taken into account, while Brazil, Japan, the United States, Italy, South Africa and the United Kingdom have the least,” the report says.

It adds that many of the restrictions in India, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and Bangladesh are “driven by groups pressing for the enshrinement of their interpretation of the majority faith, including through Shariah law in Muslim societies and (the) Hindutva movement in India which seeks to define India as a Hindu nation”.

However, the report says, government policies and social hostilities are not always connected.

Vietnam and China have high government restrictions on religion but are in the moderate or low range of social hostilities. Nigeria and Bangladesh are high in social hostilities but moderate in terms of government curbs.

Three-fourths of the 198 countries and territories included in the study call for religious freedom in their constitutions or basic laws, but Pew finds that only 53 fully respect the religious rights written into their laws.

Afghanistan, for example, appears to protect citizens’ rights to choose a religion other than Islam but instructs judges to rule according to Shariah law.

Some governments, such as those in Saudi Arabia and Iran, restrict minority faiths by strict interpretations of Islamic law. Others like China seek to control religious activities not registered by the government, such as the Falun Gong movement and Christian worship in private homes, the study says.

Some nations with high restrictions, however, are widely seen as democratic. Israel, for example, ranks poorly in the study because of security policies that limit access to religious sites and the preferential treatment of Orthodox Jews.