Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi Speaks Out for Religious Minorities after Christians Protest Attacks
"We consider the freedom to have, to retain, and to adopt, a religion or belief, is a personal choice of a citizen." Breaking his silence on the sensitive issues of forced conversions and the freedom of religion, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned religious violence in a speech on 17 February.
Speaking on behalf of Indian Christians who have long awaited government condemnation of anti-Christian violence, Anil Couto, the Archibishop of Delhi, said, "We are relieved that he sent out such a strong message." While the statement has been welcomed by Christians across India, analysts urge Prime Minister Modi to act accordingly.
The speech followed arrests at a large-scale protest in New Delhi on 5 February when hundreds of Christians gathered to protest the recent spate of attacks against Christian buildings. There have been six such attacks since December. Christians gathered outside a New Delhi cathedral to voice their concern about the government silence and police inaction since the attacks took place. Their demands were clear: "we want justice" and "we want protection".
Police arriving at the rally said that the Christians had no permission to protest, proceeding to drag them onto buses and take them to the police station. Some 200 Christians were reported to have been arrested that day. According to the Wall Street Journal, anyone found guilty of "unlawful assembly" may face up to two years in prison, a fine, or both.
But, "we want to know what we have done wrong," said one of the protestors. "Serving the poor is a crime? Feeding the hungry is a crime? Visiting the prisoner is a crime? Serving the sick is a crime? We do good, and we are not going to stop doing good."
Challenging police behaviour, Prime Minister Modi summoned Delhi's police commissioner B.S. Bassi on 13 February following an attack at a Christian school in south Delhi that took place the day before. Police have downplayed the incident, denying that the attack was motivated by religious hatred and instead stating that it was "a case of theft".
"My government," said the Prime Minister in his speech last Tuesday (17 February), "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".
Going beyond the right to freedom of worship, Prime Minister Modi mentions the Indian Constitution and the Hague Declaration (which endorses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), both of which allow for the freedom of religion, that is, the right to change one's religion.
In something of a paradox, the so-called "freedom of religion" laws (commonly known as anti-conversion laws) currently in place in six of India's states prohibit the use of fraud, inducement and force in the propagation of one's religion. These laws are often used to accuse Christians of "forced conversions" in church and evangelism activities. With Hindu nationalists pushing for a nationwide "freedom of religion" law, it remains to be seen whether or not the Prime Minister will stick to his promise to protect the rights of Indians to change their religion.
originally posted at Barnabas Fund
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