Obama speech spurs India's minority faiths to seek religious tolerance

(Photo: REUTERS/Stephen Crowley / Pool)India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama watch India's Republic Day parade in the rain together from their review stand in New Delhi January 26, 2015.

Leaders of India's minority faiths have seized the momentum to push the issue of religious tolerance after U.S. President Barack Obama spoke out on the growing number of violent incidents targeting Muslims and Christians, among others.

Representatives of religious minorities in India said that Obama's comments made in Delhi on January 27 during a three-day State visit, awakened world concern over a spike in religious violence in the country since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in May 2014.

"The entire world is speaking about the fears of religious minorities in India," John Dayal, spokesman for the United Christian Forum for Human Rights, was quoted saying in an interview with the Agence France-Presse news agency.

"For President Obama, this is as direct as he can get."

A priest for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Delhi pointed out that the remark served as a wake-up call for authorities to put an end to religious violence aimed at minorities which is gripping the country.

"I don't think anyone will disagree with what he has said as he has said it for all and it is the reality in India," Father Dominic Emanuel, the spokesman for the archdiocese, told the NDTV network.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the chief cleric in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, expressed fears that Hindu hardliners seemed to have gained in power under Modi's watch, spreading "a feeling of insecurity among religious minorities."

"There is no denying the fact that divisive Hindutva forces are gaining strength in India," he said. "This is a dangerous trend. The world will do better to see it for what it is."

But a spokesman for Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party noted that Obama spoke in broad strokes, insisting he did not single out a particular community or religious group.

"I think he is talking about general intolerance in our society," said GVL Narisimha Rao, a spokesman for Modi's BJP. "A similar intolerance of a similar order or perhaps even higher order exists in the U.S., the biggest democracy in the world."

Early last week, vandals attacked a church in Delhi, the fifth time a Catholic establishment had been targeted since December.

Human rights groups have protested "forced conversions" that they say are carried out by Hindu hardliners in certain parts of the country against Muslims, Christians and other minority religions.

Of India's 1.2 billion people around 80 percent are Hindu, some 13.4 percent are Muslim, 2.3 percent Christian, and nearly 2 percent are Sikhs.

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