June 19, 2009
India Again Denies Visas to USCIRF Panel
Indian government officials have denied visas to commissioners of a U.S. religious freedom watchdog panel for the second time since 2001.
Members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) were forced to cancel their plans to assess religious freedom in India. Panelists were scheduled to leave on June 12, and have been trying to obtain Indian visas for the past seven years.
Nina Shea, a commissioner, said it is troublesome that the Indian authorities are so defensive about exposing potential religious violence in the world's largest democracy.
"I believe at the root of this, they want to cover it up," she said. "They have something to hide."
Hindu organizations in India are reportedly suspicious of the panel's intentions, according to an Indian news article that was forwarded to USCIRF from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. The panel's visit to India is "an attack on our religious sovereignty," a spokesperson of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, a right-wing Hindu organization, told the Navbharat Times.
Commissioners had planned to travel to Gujarat, Karnataka and Orissa -- all areas of immediate concern for religiously motivated violence directed against minorities.
Shea said commissioners will look to experts and documentation to complete their report, though the trip would have been a chance for the Indian government to participate with preventive strategies at the local and national levels.
The Indian Embassy did not return phone calls.