Stung by accusations of the growing religious intolerance in India, the Modi government has gone on a diplomatic offensive and told a global terror meet in the US that the traditional notion of minorities is not valid in the Indian context. The government underlined that it has been proactively addressing issues relating to their social, cultural and political integration.
Stressing on vibrant pluralism of Indian society and polity, R.N. Ravi, chairman of a joint intelligence committee and head of the Indian delegation to an international conference hosted by the White House on terrorism, highlighted that India is home to over 180 million Muslims , the world’s second largest Muslim population after Indonesia. He also drew attention to the recent peaceful Assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir with 65% voter turnout, and stressed that no Indian has been found participating in “violent Pan Islamist groups” to prove that Indian Muslims have faith in the country.
“Going by the usual definition of minority, their population is over 260 million i.e. over 21% of India’s population. There are over 180 million Muslims in India,” Mr Ravi said during his speech at the White House summit to Counter Violent Extremism in Washington on February 19.
Minorities’ welfare top priority
The official informed the global meet that the Indian government prioritises education and economic empowerment of minority communities to address social, economic and political marginalisation of minority communities. “The range of affirmative actions of the government for the benefit of smaller communities have proved highly successful in strengthening a sense of unity and integration. India also has a National Commission for Minorities, mandated by the Constitution to address their grievances,” Mr Ravi added. “Education being the most critical to empowerment, India lays special emphasis on it. Nearly half the annual budget of ministry of minority affairs is dedicated for empowerment of smaller communities through education,” he said.
The official also pointed out the “higher population growth of smaller communities” as a “credible indicator of their ease and sense of stake in a happy co-existence with the rest”.
The three-day summit, which started on February 17, brought together domestic and international interest groups to assess current strategy to tackle terrorist groups and map the way forward. It was attended, among others, by US Secretary of State John Kerry, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, French Interior Minister Bernard Caseneuve and Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.
Terror from Outside
In a veiled allusion to cross-border terror emanating from Pakistan, Mr Ravi told delegates from over 50 countries that India had been combating terror, which came from outside the country. “Terrorism that India faces has their source often outside the country. India’s response to violent extremism is calibrated in a way that prevents disproportionate use of force by the state. India has never used air power or any area weapons in combating violent extremism,” he told the international audience.
Mr Obama raised the issue of religious tolerance in a speech at Siri Fort in New Delhi on January 27 and then reiterated it at the National Prayer Day in Washington DC when he said, a shade dramatically, that “acts of intolerance” in India in recent years “would have shocked Gandhiji”.
Responding to this critique, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a well-publicised speech, on February 17 had underscored that his “government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence”.
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