NEW DELHI: Breaking his silence over the rising incidence of attacks on churches and aggressive religious conversions, the Prime Minister said on Tuesday that his government will ensure complete freedom of faith.
Narendra Modi asserted that everyone had the right to retain or adopt the religion of his choice without coercion. He also warned that his government would not allow any religious group, of majority or minority communities, to incite hatred against other.
“Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions,” Modi said.
The PM’s comments come not just in the wake of hate speeches by fringe Sangh elements, but also after repeated concerns raised by US president Barack Obama about growing religious intolerance in India. In a strong warning to the fringe elements, Modi said, “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 appealed 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”.
Addressing a meeting organized by the Syro-Malabar Catholic church to celebrate Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Euphresia being declared saints by the Vatican, the PM’s comments would put to rest any speculation about any changes in conversion laws or in India’s constitutional commitment to secularism.
The PM’s silence on the rising anxiety had led many observers to warn that Modi’s development agenda could be washed away by such controversies.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley, who was also there for the meeting, said that the recent attacks on churches were “unacceptable aberrations”, and that the culprits would be punished. In one case, the guilty had been identified and brought to book, and in all other cases strong action would be taken. Mischief makers will have no place in our country, he said.
‘Respect for faiths in our DNA’
The PM recalled the words of Swami Vivekanand — “We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.” The principle of equal respect and treatment for all faiths, Modi said, has been part of the Indian ethos for thousands of years, adding: “And that is how it became integral to the Constitution of India. Our Constitution did not evolve in a vacuum. It has roots in the ancient cultural traditions of India.”
Modi pointed out that India was the land of Buddha and Gandhi and “equal respect for all religions must be in the DNA of every Indian”.
The PM said he had a vision for a modern India, and its mantra was development. “In simple terms it means food on every table, every child in school, a job for everybody and a house with toilet and electricity for every family. This will make India proud,” he said.
The PM referred to the declaration adopted at the interfaith conference held on December 10, 2008 at The Hague to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights by the UN. “We consider the freedom to have, to retain, and to adopt, a religion or belief, is a personal choice of a citizen,” he quoted from the declaration.