Obama warns India over religious divisions

Says South Asia's most populous country can only thrive if it is 'not splintered along lines of religious faith'
Obama warns India over religious divisions

US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wave prior to a meeting in Delhi (AFP Photo/Prakash Singh)

AFP, Delhi
India
January 27, 2015
US President Barack Obama warned India Tuesday it would not succeed if it splintered along religious lines, sounding a note of caution after two days of mostly upbeat talks with the country's Hindu nationalist leader.

Obama told an audience of mostly young Indians that everyone should be able to practice their faith without fear of persecution, recalling that the mainly Hindu country's constitution enshrined freedom of religion.

"Nowhere is that more important than India, nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld," he said.

"India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along lines of religious faith."

Father Dominic Emmanuel, head of the Institute for Communication and Inter-religious Dialogue in Delhi, said he interpreted Obamas’ speech as a call "for India to mature” and to guarantee "absolute religious freedom".

"Not only trade and commerce [are] important, but religious freedom and human rights are equally important," said the priest, who is also a former spokesperson of Delhi archdiocese.

India is a secular country, but its history is marked with outbreaks of religious violence, notably against its sizeable Muslim minority.

Hardline Hindu groups have also come under fire recently for spearheading a movement to convert Christians back to their “original Hindu faith”. 

About 273,000 individuals from minority groups were “re-converted” to Hinduism in just one area of northern India’s massive Uttar Pradesh state in 2014, according to a recently released report by the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum.

At least five Christians, including an 11-year-old child, were also killed in 2014, the report said.

India is 80 percent Hindu while Muslims make up 13.4 percent of the 1.2 billion population. Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and other religions account for the rest.

The issue of religious freedom has become particularly contentious since the election last year of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a fervent Hindu nationalist.

The US blacklisted Modi following anti-Muslim violence that left at least 1,000 people dead in Gujarat, where he was state chief minister before winning last year's election. 

Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), denies any wrongdoing and the Indian courts have cleared him of all charges.

But the failure of his administration to control the violence and his refusal to apologize have left a legacy of distrust and suspicion.

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Modi has also been heavily criticized for failing to speak out against a BJP lawmaker who recently called for Hindu women to have at least four children to "protect" their religion and supported a recent spate of 're-conversions' to Hinduism.

Modi and Obama have been at pains to stress their rapport throughout the three-day visit, which came just months after the US president hosted India's new premier in Washington. 

Additional reporting by ucanews.com

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