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The Italian government urged New Delhi to halt the violence as attacks in Orissa mounted. The U.S. should encourage action as well. Washington has established a good relationship with India’s government and should put its diplomatic capital to good use. Moreover, the Congress Party-led coalition government is more likely to expand religious liberty than the opposition BJP, which includes more radical Hindu nationalists.
ALTHOUGH THE U.S. GOVERNMENT is in no position to enforce religious freedom abroad, it should highlight the importance of guaranteeing protection of this most basic human right if India wishes to play an increasingly important international role. New Delhi will be in a better position to claim the moral mantle of the world’s largest democracy if its society also offers a free and safe home for religious minorities. In contrast, a country in which mobs periodically rule the streets, killing and destroying as they see fit, will have a harder time convincing other nations that it is fit to lead.
The latest outbreak of violence demonstrates the limits of Indian democracy, but India remains a far more hopeful place than the usual authoritarian regimes that restrict religious liberty. Observes the Institute on Religion and Public Policy: “The Indian constitution provides a strong protection for religious freedom, despite the problems that one encounters in numerous state ‘anti-conversion’ laws. The country is massive with a population in excess of 1 billion people. These people come from a wide variety of backgrounds, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Jains, all live peacefully within the same neighborhoods. This is a promising indication India can develop a religiously tolerant society.” The rest of us now must encourage India to build a freer and more tolerant society upon this promising foundation.
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