Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong pitch about his government's commitment to maintaining peace and religious harmony and said that his government will strongly act against acts of religious violence.
This is the first time that Modi spoke about religious harmony and the government's intolerance against communalism since he became Prime Minister.
Speaking at the celebration of the elevation to Sainthood of Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sister Euphrasia, Modi said, "The tradition of welcoming all faiths in India is as old as India itself...We believe that there is truth in every religion. This is critical for peace and harmony in the nation."
He also said that the world is witnessing increased religious and sectoral violence. "Fanaticism and blood-shed threatens to send the world back to religious bigotry," he said. "The world is increasingly witnessing division and hostility on religious lines. This has become a matter of global concern." Observing that the world is at crossroads, he said if not crossed properly it "can throw us back to the dark days of bigotry, fanaticism and bloodshed". He further said that this harmonious convergence among religions could not be achieved even when the world entered the third millennium.
The Prime Minister then assured the people that his government would protect their right to freedom of religion. "My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and everyone has the undeniable right to retain religion of his or her choice without any coercion," he said. "Our government will not allow any religious group belonging to majority or minority to incite violence overtly or covertly," he added.
"We cannot accept religious violence on any pretext. We will act strongly against this," said Modi. "Equal respect for all religions must be in DNA of every Indian, we cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext," he added.
Modi said the long-felt need and urge for mutually respectful relations led to the interfaith conference on 'Faith in Human Rights' at the Hague in December, 2008.
"In their historic declaration, they defined what constitutes freedom of faith and how it is to be safeguarded...speaking for India, and for my government, I declare that my government stands by every word of the above declaration. 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.
Referring to his development mantra of 'sabka saath, sabka vikas', Modi said that 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. 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," Modi said.
Modi also said that the tradition of religious harmony was very old in India. "Mother India gave birth to many religious and spiritual streams...Spiritualism is rooted in India's heritage, Indian and Greek saints had spiritual exchanges in the past," he said.
"Our Constitution did not evolve in a vacuum. It has roots in the ancient cultural traditions of India. The principle of equal respect has been a part of India’s ethos for thousands of years and that is how it became integral to the Constitution of India." Modi also said that this ancient Indian practice of mutual respect for all faiths and religions was "beginning to manifest in global outreach."
The PM also said that India was the land of Buddha and Gandhi and thus, peace must always be an integral part of the nation. "With this commitment, I appeal to all religious groups to act with mutual respect and tolerance in the true spirit of this ancient nation," Modi said.
He also praised Saint Chavara and Sister Euphrasia. "The whole country is proud of Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sister Euphrasia...Saint Chavara was a man of prayer and a social reformer. He opened the doors of education to everyone," he said.
Speaking on the occasion, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley referred to the recent incidents of attacks on churches in Delhi. He said these are "unacceptable aberrations".
He said the guilty will be brought to book and there is "no space" in India for such people. He said while the state detached itself from religion, it allowed religion to be professed, followed and to be propagated.
Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien said the incidents of attacks are aberrations and will be dealt with seriously by the government. He recalled that Hindu rulers in Kerala had helped Christianity prosper in the state by offering them land for churches.
Archbishops Andrew Thazah and Anil Couto while addressing the gathering expressed concern on attacks on churches and hoped the government will take appropriate steps.
Thazah said missionary schools have not focused on conversions but education. He said BJP veteran LK Advani and HRD Minister Smriti Irani are products of such institutions.
The Prime Minister's statements come after the Holy Child Auxilium School was vandalised by a group of unidentified persons in the wee hours of Friday, following which the school was shut and students were asked to go back to their homes.
The attack on the school is the sixth such attack in the last four months. Five churches had been vandalised in New Delhi over the past four months. Even as the Delhi Police continued to call such attacks isolated incidents, Prime Minister Modi had summoned the Delhi police Commissioner BS Bassi after the school was vandalised and had reportedly told him to take strong measures against such attacks in the national capital.
"Prime Minister Modi expressed anguish and concern over rising crime rate in the national capital. PM told us to speedily investigate the recent incidents of vandalism and ensure that the guilty are brought to book. In addition to school theft, PM also expressed his deep concern over incident of church vandalism that happened recently," Bassi had told reporters, according to DNA.
Modi's remarks have come after US President Barack Obama said the "acts of intolerance" experienced by religious faiths of all types in India in the past few years would have shocked Mahatma Gandhi.
(With inputs from PTI)
Updated Date: Feb 17, 2015 17:40 PM