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My govt will ensure complete freedom of faith, PM says

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday said violence against any religion on any pretext could not be accepted and condemned such violence. The PM, addressing a gathering comprising largely Christian community leaders, said his government would ensure complete freedom of faith and give equal respect to all religions.

This is the first time Modi has spoken on the issue of religious freedom and against sectarian violence so unequivocally in his near nine months as prime minister. His speech comes in the wake of attacks on five churches and a Christian-run school in Delhi since December. The PM had appealed for a “10-year moratorium” on caste and communal violence in his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of Red Fort on August 15 last year.

“My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence,” Modi said. He said his government “will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly”.

The PM invoked Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda and the Rig Veda to assert that “equal respect for all religions must be in the DNA of every Indian” was a cherished tenet of India’s ancient civilisation and had, therefore, formed the bedrock of the Constitution.

“We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard,” he said at an event in New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan to celebrate the beatification of Indian saints Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia late last year by the Pope.

The Modi government is bracing for a difficult Budget session that starts on Monday. A combined opposition had disrupted the better part of Rajya Sabha proceedings during the winter session, demanding a statement from Modi on the ‘ghar wapsi’ and ‘love jihad’ campaigns of the Sangh Parivar, stalling discussion on key Bills and forcing the Centre to promulgate ordinances on laws such as the land acquisition Act, foreign investment norms in the insurance sector and coal block allocations.

US President Barack Obama had also highlighted the need for India to protect religious freedom — during his visit to India in January and at the White House National Prayer Breakfast Meeting in Washington on February 6. He had said the “acts of intolerance” experienced by people of various religions in India in the past few years would have shocked Mahatma Gandhi.

In his speech, Modi said hostilities and divisions on religious lines were increasing across the world and were a matter of global concern. The PM “appeal[ed] to all religious groups to act with restraint, mutual respect and tolerance in the true spirit of this ancient nation which is manifest in our Constitution and is in line with the Hague Declaration [interfaith conference of 2008]”.

The PM said his “mantra is development”, which in “simple terms” meant “food on every table, every child in school, a job for everybody and a house with toilet and electricity for every family”. “We can achieve this through unity. Unity strengthens us. Division weakens us,” he said.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley termed the recent attacks on churches as “unacceptable aberrations”, adding that the guilty would be brought to book and there was “no space” in India for such people.

Archbishops Andrew Thazah and Anil Couto expressed concern at the attacks on churches. Thazah said missionary schools have not focused on conversions but education. He added Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Krishna Advani and Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani had studied in Christian institutions. Modi said Saint Chavara opened the doors of education to all sections of society by asking every church to have a school, in an era when access to education was limited. “Few outside Kerala know that he started a Sanskrit school and also a printing press. His contribution towards women’s empowerment was also noteworthy,” Modi said.

PM SPEAKS UP, FINALLY

ATTACKS ON MINORITIES

  • 1 Dec: St Sebastian’s Church in east Delhi gutted. Police begin investigation after protests. No arrests till date
     
  • 7 Dec: Stones pelted at Our Lady of Fatima Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in south Delhi during Saturday evening Malayalam Mass. No arrests till date.
     
  • 3 Jan: A crib in Church of Resurrection in northwest Delhi burnt down. No arrests
     
  • 14 Jan: Our Lady of Graces Church in west Delhi vandalised. 3 arrested
     
  • 2 Feb: St Alphonsa’s Church in south Delhi vandalised. Police register a case of theft but church says valuables untouched
     
  • 13 Feb: Holy Child Auxilium in south Delhi vandalised, PM summons Delhi police chief. HRD Minister Smriti Irani, an alumna, visits the school

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