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PM turns his back and US discusses religion in India
Washington , Sept. 19: A day after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee left Washington for India, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom held a hearing on India and Pakistan, including a special session on Kashmir.

The decision to hold the hearing within 24 hours of the Prime Minister’s departure was “not a coincidence,” according to the Commission’s director of communications, Lawrence J Goodrich. “While we had no intention of causing any embarrassment to the Prime Minister on his visit, we also timed it to gain maximum media advantage by holding it just after he left Washington,” he told.

Chairing the hearings was Elliot Abrams, president, Ethics and Public Policy Centre, Washington. The session on India included Ainslie Embree of Columbia University, Arvind Sharma of McGill University, Mumtaz Ali Khan of the Muslim Forum for Social Justice and John Dayal of the All India Christian Council.

While Embree gave an overview of the religious situation, including how Hindus view conversion, Sharma specifically spoke on the Hindu view of conversion and religious freedom, pointing out that most Hindus were against conversion. He said the problem occurred with Western thinking that assumed that a man could only follow one religion.

He pointed out that a Hindu does not mind if you pray to Allah or Jesus; what he minds is if you stop worshipping Hindu gods to worship other religions’ gods. Khan said that Muslims suffered from a series of disabilities, marginalised due to poverty and illiteracy. She said that under the Bharatiya Janata Party regime, the sense of insecurity had increased though Muslims in India do look up to Vajpayee.

There was also a session on the plight of minorities in Pakistan, followed by a situation analysis hearing on India and Pakistan. During the last session, the speakers took pains to point out the difference between India and Pakistan, stating that while in India the minorities were protected by laws but their implementation was weak, in Pakistan.