Christian Groups Applaud U.N. Report on India's Intolerance

Two respected Christian rights groups welcomed a new U.N. report on India that acknowledges religious hatred and mob violence by religious extremists as well as anti-Christian attacks in Orissa.

In the report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir reported that although "the religious diversity of India and the positive impact of secularism" exists, there is also a "system of impunity [that] emboldens forces of intolerance."

She also noted that extremist groups spread religious hatred which has "unleashed an all-pervasive fear of mob violence."

Jahangir's report is based on her visit to India from March 3-20, 2008, during which she held meetings with civil society, including one in Orissa state after the anti-Christian violence of December 2007. The Orissa meeting was organized by All India Christian Council (AICC), the partner of U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

"The Special Rapporteur painted a balanced and authentic picture of the state of religious freedom in India, and she accurately represented many of the concerns of Indian civil society," said AICC president Dr. Joseph D'souza, in a statement on Monday. "The increasing violence against religious minorities by religious fundamentalists urgently warrants this level of attention."

"We appreciate her incisive analysis of the key issues of concern, especially the damage of anti-conversion laws on a rich tradition of religious tolerance, and the unequal treatment of Dalits from different faiths," he said. "We call upon the government of India to take this report and its recommendations seriously."

The U.N. report raises concerns about state-level anti-conversion laws "used to vilify Christians and Muslims," and recommends that they be "reconsidered since they raise serious human rights concerns."

It also calls for the end to religious discrimination against Dalits regarding their eligibility for the affirmative action system in public education and employment.

CSW advocacy director Alexa Papadouris applauded the report for raising attention to the widespread impunity following large-scale attacks on religious minorities, especially the latest attacks on Christians in Orissa, but also against Muslims and Sikhs.

"This report echoes the calls from within India for these and other concerns to be addressed properly and comprehensively. Together with the Special Rapporteur, we recognize the immense challenges of governing as large and diverse a nation as India," Papadouris said.

"However, we urge the government to engage fully with all the recommendations in this report, as a demonstration of their commitment to India being a land of freedom and opportunity for all her diverse citizens, regardless of their religious identity."

Christian rights groups are particularly concerned about India currently because of the large-scale attacks on Christians in Orissa state. Since August, at least 60 Christians have been killed; 18,000, wounded; 181 churches, razed or destroyed; 4,500 Christian homes, burned; and more than 50,000 Christians, displaced. More than 30,000 of those displaced were staying in refugee camps or hiding in the jungle, according to media reports.

Despite protests and the months that have passed since the initial attacks, the anti-Christian campaign is still taking place in Orissa. Christians in the remote eastern state still report being threatened to convert to Hinduism or else be beaten up or watch their homes be destroyed.