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US panel wants government to resolve Ayodhya issue 

Washington: Expressing concern over the riots in Gujarat, a blue ribbon US panel that examines issues of religious freedom has urged the Bush administration to lean on the Indian government to resolve contentious domestic issues like the Ayodhya dispute.

In its annual report for 2002 released on Monday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which is a statutory non-governmental body, said it has observed with great concern the communal rioting between Muslims and Hindus in India since February 2002 that has claimed more than 800 lives, "primarily Muslims."

The Commission urged the US government "to press Indian authorities to exercise their power to halt the atrocities and violence, bring perpetrators to justice, and do more to root out the causes of religious intolerance, especially by resolving the impasse over the Babri mosque in Ayodhya destroyed in 1992 by Hindu nationalists who are vowing to construct a Hindu temple on the site."

As it did in its report last year, the Commission appeared to lay the blame on increased religious violence squarely on rising Hindu militancy, while praising the overall secular nature of the Indian republic. 

Following the carnage in Gujarat, India also has had the ignominy of being placed with Pakistan as countries that needed closer monitoring over issues of religious freedom despite the fundamental differences on the basis on which the two countries were founded. 

The report from the blue ribbon panel, with NGOs and think tank luminaries in it, is different from the State Department’s annual report every fall naming "countries of particular concern" on issues of religious freedom. 

This panel in fact criticised the administration for failing to take action on countries for egregious violation of religious freedom because of foreign policy considerations.

For three years, five countries — Burma, China, Iran, Iraq and Sudan — have been cited by the administration for violation of religious freedom but no extra sanctions were placed on them beyond earlier U.S. policies, the new report said. It asked the State Department to designate Saudi Arabia and Turkmenistan as the worst violators and to monitor India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam more closely.

Evidently, the Panel is not empowered to examine religious freedom issues within the United States itself. Minority groups in the US have accused the administration of perpetuating ethnic and racial stereotypes, including profiling of Muslims in the United States in the aftermath of 9/11 (Times of India, 7 May 2002). 

¯ Chidanand Rajghatta

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