WASHINGTON — US lawmakers urged authorities in India's eastern state of Orissa to prosecute perpetrators of violence against Christians, saying the nation's reputation for tolerance was at stake.
In a letter to the state's Chief Minister Navin Patnaik released Friday, the lawmakers voiced concern that many perpetrators of last year's violence were still at large and intimidating their victims.
More than 100 Christian were killed and thousands more left homeless between August and October 2008 following the murder of a revered Hindu holy man, which was blamed on Christians.
While praising recent statements by India's central government, the lawmakers said that local authorities have sometimes turned away victims seeking redress.
"Such attacks on the fundamental freedom of religion threaten not only India's reputation for religious diversity, but also the very stability of India's secular democracy," the 21 lawmakers, led by Republican Trent Franks, wrote in the letter sent late last month.
"Given the recent experience with religiously inspired terrorism, we are concerned that if Hindu extremists can act with impunity toward religious minorities in India, these extremists and their ideologies will begin to affect international security as well."
Christians account for 2.3 percent of the billion-plus population in India, which is majority Hindu but officially secular.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan official advisory panel, in August placed India on its watch list, citing violence against Christians in Orissa and Muslims in the western state of Gujarat.
The move brought swift condemnation from India, an emerging US ally, which said the nation had an independent judiciary and vigilant media to pursue any aberrations from its secular, multi-religious principles.
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