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Modi pledges to protect minorities

A protester holds a cross during a protest rally by hundreds of Christians against recent attacks on churches nationwide, in MumbaiNEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday broke his silence on a string of attacks on minorities by right-wing groups, saying his government will ensure complete freedom of faith and prevent any religious group from inciting hatred against others.

In a symbolic gesture, Modi chose an event organised by Christian organizations to celebrate two saints from Kerala to outline his vision of a modern India that can be achieved through unity among all communities.

“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,” he told the gathering that included Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptullah and leaders of the church.

“My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others overtly or covertly.”

The prime minister’s remarks came in the wake of attacks on five churches and a burglary at a convent school in Delhi since December.

On February 2, a church in south Delhi dedicated to a Christian saint Modi mentioned in his speech – St Alphonsa – was vandalised.

Radical groups and leaders allied to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have launched a series of attacks on minorities, especially Muslims and Christians, since last year.

Several groups have launched ‘ghar wapsi’, a campaign to convert people of other faiths to Hinduism, and taken steps to stop what they describe as ‘love jihad’ or the conversion of Hindu women for marriage.

During his visit to India in January, US president Barack Obama raised the issue of religious divisions at a town hall meeting.

He said, “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith – so long as it’s not splintered along any lines.”

Modi condemned violence against any religion and said his government would take strong action to tackle the issue.

“We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard.

“Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions. India is the land of Buddha and Gandhi, equal respect for all religions must be in the DNA of every Indian,” Modi said.

Noting that the world is “increasingly witnessing division and hostility on religious lines”, which has become a matter of global concern, Modi said: “The world is at a crossroads, which if not crossed properly, can throw us back to the dark days of bigotry, fanaticism and bloodshed.”

India, he said, had a tradition of “welcoming, respecting and honouring” all faiths and had given birth to “many religious and spiritual streams”, some of which have traveled beyond the country’s borders.

Outlining his vision of a modern India, the prime minister said he had embarked on a “huge mission to convert that mission into reality”.

“My mantra is development, sabka saath sabka vikas. In simple terms it means food on every table, every child in school a job for everybody and a house with toilets and electricity for every family. This will make India proud,” he said.

“We can achieve this through unity. Unity strengthens us. Division weakens us. I sincerely request all Indians and all of you present here to support me in this huge task.”

Finance minister Arun Jaitley, speaking at the same function, described the recent attacks on churches as “unacceptable aberrations.”

“Those who perpetrate such attacks have no place in India,” he said. – From The Hindustan Times

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