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India hit for rising religious violence

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An independent U.S. agency on Wednesday criticized the Indian government's "inadequate" response to growing religious hatred, saying attacks and violent riots are on the rise.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released a harsh assessment of India's ability and interest in protecting Christian and Muslim minorities from organized attacks.

Plenty of laws are in place, the 14-page report noted, but police and government officials often do little to enforce them.

"Although the infrastructure for investigating and prosecuting cases of religiously motivated violence or harassment exists in India, the capacity of the legal system is severely limited and is utilized inconsistently," the USCIRF found.

"These deficiencies have resulted in a culture of impunity that gives members of vulnerable minority communities few assurances of their safety, particularly in areas with a history of communal violence."

The commission said in a statement that it was placing India on its "watch list" for the governments "largely inadequate response in protecting its religious minorities."

The spokesman at the Indian Embassy in Washington said officials are studying the report.

India - a multiethnic, multireligious, multilingual democracy of more than a billion people - is one of the United States' closest allies in Asia.

The country has an independent judiciary, as well as a scrappy and influential press corps that frequently takes on the government, USCIRF officials found. Nongovernmental organizations are free to criticize local and national administrations, and mobilize civil society.

However, the group says, a half-dozen Indian states have passed ordinances that contradict or overturn the national regulations, creating an atmosphere of impunity for the killing and harassment of religious minorities.

USCIRF investigators singled out a violent campaign against Christians in the state of Orissa in eastern India. At least 40 people were killed over a period of weeks, and church properties and thousands of home were attacked. The group estimates that 60,000 people, mostly Christian, fled the violence and sought refuge in the nearby jungle.

"It is extremely disappointing that India, which has a multitude of religious communities, has done so little to protect and bring justice to its religious minorities under siege," commission Chairman Leonard Leo said in the statement.

He said the India chapter of the commission's annual report is being released this week to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of the anti-Christian violence in Orissa.

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