UK Parliament hears of India’s proud history of religious tolerance

UK Parliament hears of India’s proud history of religious tolerance
Courtesy: joe daniel price | Moment via Getty Images

India is home to a vibrant faith-based civil society and among the world’s most religiously diverse societies with a proud history of religious tolerance, the UK government declared.

Responding to the debate entitled ‘Christians and Religious Minorities: India’ at Westminster Hall in the House of Commons complex in London last week, UK Minister of Equalities Kemi Badenoch highlighted the “open and constructive dialogue” in place between India and the UK across all subject areas and reiterated that the UK-India relationship is “central” to Britain’s foreign policy tilt towards the Indo-Pacific.

The minister said: “India, like the UK, is a society with many different faith communities. It has a proud history of religious tolerance and is among the most religiously diverse societies in the world, with significant religious minority communities, including Christians and Muslims.

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“We recognise that, in a country of 1.3 billon people, the situation for minorities varies, depending on the region and their social and economic status. It is up to the government of India to uphold those freedoms and rights, which are guaranteed by its strong democratic framework and legal mechanisms.”

The debate by backbench UK parliamentarians was called by Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP Jim Shannon, who is also chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief.

“This debate looks to better things in India, ever mindful that we have a special relationship. It is my hope that things in life will get better,” said Shannon in his opening speech.

Conservative Party MPs Theresa Villiers and Bob Blackman were among the participants who spoke to highlight that freedom of religion is a fundamental right in India.

Villiers noted: “Diversity, inclusion and respect for minority faiths has been a core principle of the state of India since its inception.

“In any country, there will be wrongdoers and extremists who commit crimes and incite hatred against minorities… What is important is to look at is how a state responds to such criminal and unacceptable activities.”

Blackman spoke of how India’s Constitution directly protects and safeguards religious minorities.

“Minority community status for Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists and Jains is not only protected by law, but they are encouraged to promote their individual identities. That is in the Constitution,” he said.

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Indian diaspora groups had rallied ahead of the debate to encourage constituents to write to their MPs against what was perceived as an anti-India propaganda by an member of Parliament who has previously called a similar debate.

Insight UK, which identifies itself as a social movement of British Hindu and Indian communities, said: “On Tuesday 12th January 2021, MP Jim Shannon had put forward a similar debate as ‘India: Persecution of Minority Groups’. Many other UK MPs responded to the debate highlighting that there are issues in India like any other country, including the UK, but minorities are thriving in India.

“Still the concerned MP continues to drive anti-India agenda without any facts and misuse the UK Parliament to propel anti-India propaganda.”

The group circulated a fact sheet highlighting India’s strong democratic record of religious pluralism.

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