US panel puts India under scanner for 'religious violence'

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) plans to announce later today that it has placed India on its watch list because of its "inadequate" response to religious violence, particularly against the country's Muslim and Christian minorities.

USCIRF is an independent US agency whose job is to make sure religious freedom is taken into account in US foreign policy. Its watch list consists of countries with governments that tolerate "serious violations of religious freedom".

It is likely to annoy the State Department, which has long complained that foreign government mistakenly believe that the commission makes US policy. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited India last month, when the countries announced agreements to strengthen a relationship that has dramatically improved in recent years.

There are already signs that USCIRF's decision to place India on its watch list could cause problems between the US and India. Some of the eight members of USCIRF had planned a June trip to the country to look into reports of religious violence, but their applications for visas were turned down.

In an interview, USCIRF chairman Leonard Leo rejected the warnings that placing India on the watch list would jeopardise US-Indian relations.

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