By ICC’s India Correspondent
1/30/2015 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – India’s Christians are applauding President Barack Obama following his strong appeal for religious freedom during a recent visit to India. The U.S. president’s remarks come at a time when religious freedom is under attack by right-wing Hindu nationalist organizations who are carrying out hate campaign against both India’s Christian and Muslim minorities with near impunity.
President Obama, the first U.S. president to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade, spent three days in India and held crucial meetings strengthening the bilateral relationship between the United States and India. On his final day in India, President Obama addressed over 2,000 young people at the Siri Fort auditorium in what was termed a “town hall” meeting. During this address, he said, “India will succeed as long as it’s not splintered along religious lines…nowhere is it more important to uphold religious freedom than in India.”
President Obama concluded his 45 minute speech by stressing the importance of religious tolerance and religious freedom in India. Quoting the Indian Constitution, President Obama said, “Your Article 25 (of the Constitution) says that all people are ‘equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.” President Obama went on to say, “In both our countries, in all countries, upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of government, but it’s also the responsibility of every person.”
Franklin Sudhakar, General Secretory of All India Christian Council in Telangana state, told International Christian Concern (ICC) that, “Obama’s inspirational speech has come as comfort for Christian minorities in India, as the country is boiling with communal flares. The right-wing nationalists carry on ghar wapsi (home coming) programs, converting many Christians to Hinduism.”
While thanking President Obama and his team, Arun Pannalal, Chairman of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum said that, “There is a greater challenge for Christians in this country. The real battle starts now, as the Sangh Parivar will take their communal hate campaigns to the next level, attacking Christians structurally and through legal means.”
Rev. Ronald John, Chairman of the Telangana Christian Joint-Action Committee said, “This is a very good development. It eases Christians from fear and doubt, on excising the faith of their choice. He continued, “The Government of India should take note of this and take appropriate action to protect the rights of minorities. Obama’s message is clear and is a warning for every individual who wants to see this country develop.”
In time like this, with radical Hindu nationalist groups more active than ever, seemingly unstoppable and emboldened by India’s ruling party, President Obama’s speech seems a timely intervention for Christians. Now all that remains to be seen is whether or not Modi, and his ruling BJP, took note and will put President Obama’s words into action.