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Why is India alarmed at US funding of NGOs promoting religious freedom?

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Message Abdus-Sattar Ghazali
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The Indian government on Thursday said it has sought details about the US announcement to provide financial aid to NGOs to promote religious freedom in India.

The US has announced it wants to "increase societal tolerance" and reduce "religiously-motivated violence" and discrimination in India with the nearly $500,000 grant to NGOs in the country.

The state department had on Wednesday announced the grant for organizations that can come up with ideas and projects to promote religious freedom in India.

The department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, in a notice, had said that it seeks to "reduce religiously-motivated violence and discrimination in India" through its $4,93,827 grant program.

"The goal of the program is to increase societal tolerance and improve civilian security to reduce religiously-motivated violence and discrimination, and the funds will support activities that work toward that end," a department spokesperson told Press Trust of India in Washington.

The State Department said the NGOs applying for the grant should come out with proposals to develop and implement early warning systems to mitigate large-scale violence and implement conflict mitigation programs between minority and majority groups.

The applicants should also have proposals to educate civil society and journalists about legal protections for religious freedom, particularly for members of religious minorities; document and report religious freedom violations to authorities; and educate law enforcement on human-rights standards.

Among other proposals could be ideas to engage law enforcement to better protect rights of religious minorities, including preventing incidents of discrimination and violence and holding perpetrators accountable, the State Department said.

The countries currently receiving grants from US in the region are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Kazakhastan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

In its latest International Religious Freedom report, the State Department said Christian and Muslim activists stated the government was not doing enough to protect them against religiously motivated attacks.

There were reports of religiously motivated killings, assaults, riots, discrimination, vandalism and actions restricting the right of individuals to practice their religious beliefs and proselytize, it said.

There was an increase in violent incidents by cow-protection groups against mostly Muslim victims, including killings, mob violence, assaults, and intimidation. Hindus threatened and assaulted Muslims and Christians and destroyed their property, it added.

During his confirmation hearing last month, the new US Ambassador-designate to India, Ken Juster, said that human rights and religious freedom would be one of his priority areas during his assignment in New Delhi. Juster was confirmed by the Senate last week.

Violence by cow vigilantes increased in India in 2016: US report

There was an increase in violent incidents by cow-protection groups mostly against Muslims in India in the year 2016, an official US report on international religious freedom said in last August, noting that authorities often "failed" to prosecute cow vigilantes.

The report, the first under the Trump Administration, released by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, said members of the civil society expressed concerns that under the BJP government religious minority communities felt vulnerable due to Hindu nationalist groups engaging in violence against non-Hindu individuals and places of worship.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
 
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