Indian Leaders Call for Increased Protection of Religious Rights on World Tolerance Day

New Delhi, India … November 16, 1999 [IRLA News] Civil and religious leaders in India used World Tolerance Day today (Nov. 16) to call for increased protection to be given to rights of religious freedom at the inauguration of a World Conference on Religious Freedom.

"It is in the fitness of things that this Congress is being held in the capital of a country which has allowed every religious tradition to flourish and has also provided shelter to those who were being persecuted in the land of their birth," said Dr. Manmohan Singh, inaugural speaker, noted academic, economist, educator, and Leader of the Opposition at the Rajya Sabha (the "Senate").

"India’s long historical past sparkles with incidents of men and women who at great personal risk and sacrifice endeavored to preserve freedom of religion, communal harmony and peace," continued Dr. Singh. "Unfortunately, the picture today is not so bright. We face grave threats to these cherished ideals. The price of religious freedom, communal harmony, national integration and peace is eternal vigilance….

"More than ever before, we need to re-dedicate ourselves to the goal of an open society, committed to respect for all fundamental human freedoms, as an essential condition for improving the human condition," said Dr. Singh. "The fundamental human rights in religion and belief have not merely been intuited but enunciated in every major religion. Throughout history, people have made enormous sacrifices to uphold the sanctity of these rights. The state, the society and the individual have distinct roles in preserving these rights. Promoting an environment that is more distinctly protective of these rights is of urgent relevance today. It is particularly essential in the context of incidents of communal disharmony that are erupting with a terrible violence all over the world."

"In the final analysis, let us not forget that today, as it has been always, the battle is for the minds of our people…. Man must be free to seek his own destiny, to establish his own relations and communion with his Maker and to follow the dictates of his own conscience, but always within the framework and in full consciousness of his place, role, and obligations in and for the society of which he is an integral part, and to the reality that liberty and privilege to individuality which he seeks must be just as verily extended to every other member of the community."

"It is in that affirmation and commitment that we see the genesis and realization of communal harmony and peace. It is then we shall see the evolution of communities whose freedom of religion shall be cherished as well as nourished in an atmosphere of mutual love and respect and whose fellowship and service to others shall flow like rivers, where everyone shall call our God, Father, and his neighbor, brother. It is then we shall see and experience the star of religious freedom rise and shine in that atmosphere of tolerance, peace and harmony. All of us have an obligation to work for the realization of this noble vision," concluded Dr. Singh.

"We in India believe that every single person should be able to follow a religion or belief that his conscience agrees with," commented Dr. Narendra Mohan, Rajya Sabha MP and editor, Dainik Jagran. "Every individual is free to choose his path to salvation and spirituality. In this world of ours, inter-religious tolerance is shown in spreading religious freedom. If we do no spread this, we will create problems for ourselves…. We have no right to hate the faith of others. Religious freedom is a fundamental right, originating from the right of conscience. Every human mind must be respected.

"Speaking on "Freedom of Religion: A Fundamental Right in the 21st Century," keynote speakers Drs. Tahir Mahmood and Karan Singh also pointed to the need for a much greater emphasis not just on legal and constitutional guarantees but also on the practical implementation of religious freedom.

"It must, however, be clearly understood—by one and all, and for all times to come—that this internationally recognized human right to religious freedom has to apply, equally, to all religions and all religious communities of the world—big and small—and is not meant to serve the interests of any chosen religion, howsoever widely prevalent or locally dominant it may be," said Dr. Tahir Mahmood, Chairman, National Commission for Minorities. "Recognition of religious freedom in international law presupposes an absolute equality of all religions. Clearly enough, the claim of superiority of any particular religion over all others would demolish the very foundation of the recognition of religious liberty by the modern human-rights jurisprudence. The human-rights law of our times—based on the doctrine of Equality of Mankind as it is—cannot deny to the followers of one religion what it concedes to those of any other."

"The reasons for the growing trends of religious violence in the world, in my opinion, lie in the unfortunate erosion of the essential teachings and values of religion itself. All our great religious faiths emphatically tell us that piety and godliness lie not in the symbolic rites and rituals but in promoting mutual love, compassion and sympathy for the fellow human beings—in accepting their human right to their own respective ways of worshipping the Creator. Our salvation lies in focussing our attention, and concentrating our thoughts, on these common humanitarian teachings of all our religions. The attempt to locate in one another’s scriptures things which may appear unpalatable to us will lead us nowhere but to mutual hatred."

"In the ensuing 21st century Man cannot behave in respect of religion as he unfortunately did in the ancient times and in the medieval ages. Now, in our present age, religious freedom can be recognized, respected and practised, as a fundamental human right, only for the protection of humanity, and not for its destruction."

Dr. Karan Singh, former Union Minister, in his presentation identified three points which are basic for religious liberty. "First," he said, "is that the religious impulse is something very much deeper than most people had realized. When we were growing up there were two trends of thought. The Marxist trend of thought that completely rejected and opposed religion and so called liberal trend of thought looked upon religion as something bound to disappear as soon as people educated and enlightened. Both of these views have collapsed in our lifetimes. So the first point to understand is that religion is something undying. It is that spark within each human, the divine spark that encapsulates the human being. Fanning the divine spark into the spiritual fire of realization and that is the real goal of religious teachings and practices."

"Second is that we have to realize that the religion has a mixed record. On the one hand much that is greater and noble in human civilization: architecture, music, literature, moral cords, spiritual practices and all sorts of divine manifestations can be traced back to the religious impulse. All great religions represent the upsurge of religious emotions and religious attitudes. Many of the moral codes, many of the laws that we see are based upon religious beliefs. On the other hand, more people have been killed, tortured and persecuted, and burned in the name of religion than in any other name. If we look through the long and torturous history on the human race of planet earth you will find that the greatest destruction has been wrought in the name of religion. We have to realize that as people who are interested in religion we cannot only present one side of the religion and pretend that the other side doesn’t exist. I think we have to come to terms with the fact that religion is often expressed in fanaticism, in cruelty, in persecution, in burning, and in all sorts of violence. Today we either slide back into medieval posture of holy wars, or achieve the higher level of inter-faith understanding."

"Thirdly, is that the real basis of religion is the movement within. There is only one light that does not cast a shadow. Ultra-consumerism and ultra-promiscuity lead to terrorism and narcoticism and other negativisms of this world. In the words of the Chinese proverb, it is later than you think. In the words of the Upanishads, ‘Let there be no hatred between us.’"

Archbishop Allan de Lastic of New Delhi spoke of the great movement of return to spirituality. "Without that word freedom, there is no religion," he said. "Without these qualities of freedom and love there can be no human life at all. Human beings are responsible for what they do because of freedom. If there is no freedom, they cannot be held responsible."

"India enjoys tremendous freedom," he continued. "We are a religious people. When I hear of any attacks on other religions I am very sad, but there must be no retaliation, only forgiveness."

Attending the Conference are 275 delegates from all over India as well as from many other countries including Russia, USA, China, Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Belgium, Britain, Poland and Brazil.

Hosted by the International Religious Liberty Association in New Delhi, the Conference has as its purpose the promotion of freedom of conscience throughout a world that is seeing frequent violations of the rights of religious groups. The Conference began on November 16 and continues to November 18. [Dittu Abraham/Jonathan Gallagher]