Trump's India visit disappoints Christian leaders

Indian Christians expected the US president to denounce religion-based violence but he kept silent
Trump's India visit disappoints Christian leaders

Communist Party of India (Marxist) activists shout slogans as they take part in a protest against US President Donald Trump's visit to India in Mumbai on Feb. 25. (Photo: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP)

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US President Donald Trump has disappointed Indian Christians with his reticence to speak about deteriorating religious freedom in the country, say Christian leaders.

Trump concluded his 36-hour India visit on Feb. 25 with a media conference when he heaped praise on his host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but refused to comment on Hindu fanatic violence against religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims.

Christian leaders like Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum, said Trump's India visit was a great disappointment for Indian Christians.

"Persecuted Christians had great expectations, but Trump lost the opportunity," Dias told UCA News.

Trump responded to questions about religious freedom and religion-based violence by saying they were an internal matter for India.

He began his media address by saying: "I won't be controversial … don't want to blow this up. Will be conservative in my answers."

The US president said discussions he had with Modi related not just to alleged discrimination against Muslims but also "specifically Christians." Trump also lauded the Modi government's policy, saying that Modi stands for "religious freedom."

A.C. Michael, a former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission, said international rights forums, including the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, have detailed the shrinking religious freedom in India.

"Under such circumstances, it was expected from the US president to speak for the freedom of the Indian Christian community, whose support he seeks in his country," Michael said.

The Christian leader said that just before leaving for India, Trump "gave an assurance to American Indian Christians that he would take up the matter of violence against minorities, especially Christians. He has failed to keep his word. He is obliged to explain this unforgivable failure."

Jesuit Father Denzil Fernandes, director of the Indian Social Institute in New Delhi and a social activist, said Trump spoke in expected lines. 

"People were aware that Trump would not say anything about religious freedom or any minority issues because people knew that he was here for a business trip," Father Fernandes said.

"Not just Trump, no visiting US president in the past gave importance to anything other than business. They come here just for trade promotion. So expecting them to say something about religious freedom will be wrong." 

The US is one of India's biggest trade partners. Bilateral trade between the two countries reached US$142.6 billion in 2018. But in June 2019 the US ended preferential trade status for India, which imposed a retaliatory tariff on 28 US products. However, Trump's visit has helped improve relations.

India and the US held talks in five major categories — security, defense, energy, technology and people-to-people contact. The highest consideration is collaboration in the defense sector, said Harsh Vardhan Shringla, India's foreign secretary.

Father Fernandes said business and domestic electoral compulsions forced Trump to skip questions on religious persecution in India. 

The priest said Trump also "wanted to please" the three million Indian-origin voters in the US in view of presidential elections this November.

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