Christians across India were encouraged by President Obama’s visit to India this week and for the “hard talk” he gave regarding the importance of religious freedom. During President Obama’s last speaking engagement, he emphasized the importance of religious freedom and tolerance. He also discussed the importance of protecting minorities, drawing upon his experience as a minority in the United States. Many Christians in India hope the government now follow President Obama’s words and begin to stem the escalation India has seen in persecution over the last 8 months.
1/28/2015 India (National Catholic Register) – Christians took comfort this week from some unexpected “hard talk” in support of religious freedom delivered by visiting U.S. President Barack Obama.
The Obama’s remarks came two days after Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s similar remarks, delivered to mark India’s Jan. 26 Republic Day celebration, at which Obama was this year’s chief guest. And to many Christians, both speeches seemed to be directly addressed to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling BJP party.
“Religion is a force for unity; we cannot make it a cause of conflict,” Mukherjee said in his customary address to the nation on the eve of Republic Day. Mukherjee was quoting Mahatma Gandhi, who is known as “Father of the Nation” of the country that became a republic on Jan. 26, 1950.
In an apparent endorsement of Mukherjee’s remarks, President Obama said in his concluding Jan. 27 “town hall” address in New Delhi, “We remember the wisdom of Gandhi, who said that ‘the different religions are beautiful flowers in the same garden.’ They are branches of the same majestic tree.”
“Every person has a right to practice the faith that they choose and to practice no faith at all — and to do so free of persecution, fear or discrimination,” declared Obama.
The U.S. president even quoted the Indian constitution on religious freedom, reminding more than 1,800 special invitees, including many youth, “Your [Constitution] Article 25 says all people are equally entitled to the freedom of conscience and have right to freely profess and practice and propagate religion.”
Asserting that “upholding freedom of religion is the utmost responsibility of the government,” Obama pointed out, “We see violence and terror perpetuated by those who profess to be standing up for upholding their faith but in fact [are] betraying them.”
Calling for the international community to “guard against any efforts to divide us on sectarian lines or any other thing,” Obama cautioned that “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along lines of religious faith.”
“We are very happy that the U.S. president has spoken out clearly on the issue of religious freedom,” said Archbishop Albert D’Souza of Agra, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).
“It is indeed a happy coincidence that both the U.S. and Indian presidents have made these statements when unpleasant things are happening on the religious-freedom front in the country,” Archbishop D’Souza told the Register.
“The [Indian] president, with his Republic Day message, has made it clear to the government what it should do,” said Archbishop D’Souza. “We want the prime minister to act before things get worse.”
However, BJP spokespersons and sympathizers tried to downplay Obama’s message, claiming that it was “only global and not India specific.”
And Kanwar Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary, maintained that it was “wrong” and “unnecessary” on the part of Obama “to quote the constitution to us.”