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The 1949 Constitution of India declares the nation to be a “Sovereign Secular State.” Article 15 declares that “ the State shall not discriminate against any citizens on grounds only of religion...” and forbids discrimination on the basis of religion regarding access to shops, restaurants, hotels and places of entertainment. It also prohibits denying access to wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads or public places “maintained wholly or in part by State funds or dedicated to the use of the public.” Employment discrimination based upon religion is likewise banned. The constitution allows religious organizations to establish educational institutions. Article 25 guarantees freedom of thought, belief, expression and conscience and the right to profess, practice and propagate religion.

The religious and political situation of India is extremely complex as India has a multitude of ethnic groups, religions, and languages. Furthermore the degree of respect or disrespect for religious freedom varies between the national and state and local governments. The country as a whole is currently ruled by a coalition led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party is a nationalist Hindu Party backed by several Hindu organizations that hope to see India become a Hindu state. While the government is bound by the constitution to respect religious freedom, Muslims and Christians have complained of discrimination. Furthermore, Muslims have charged that both federal and regional governments have shown partisanship in their response to violent confrontations between Muslims and Hindus that have resulted in thousands of deaths. The national government has been sensitive to criticism that it has responded inadequately to these crises and has met with Christian and Muslim leaders to try to assuage their concerns concerning the government's commitment to a secular state that respects the rights of all religions.

The situation has been exacerbated by events following the terrorist attacks on the USA on 911.  India supported the US-led offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan and passed anti-terrorist legislation in India increasing the government's police powers. At the same time, India has moved to the brink of war with Pakistan as conflict between Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir has increased. In some cases, politicians have stirred religious emotion in order to pursue their electoral and policy objectives.

In this volatile domestic and international situation, religious minorities are subject to discrimination and violent attacks by extremist groups.

2008 US State Department International Religious Freedom Report on India

India - New World Encyclopedia