India's Prime Minister Promises to Protect Religious Minorities

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally broken his silence on attacks by Hindu militants against Christians and other religious minorities. He made a promise to protect these minorities at an event honoring two new Catholic saints from India.

"I condemn all incidents of violence where religious minorities were targeted," Modi told an event organized by the Christian community to celebrate the beatification of two Indians by Pope Francis late last year.

"No religious group can incite violence ... my government will ensure there is complete freedom of faith."

Modi, a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist, rarely attends events organized by minority communities.

His decision to appear among Christians followed a drubbing for his party in elections to the Delhi local assembly last week, where it won just three of 70 seats, raising concerns that it could face setbacks in other state elections on the horizon.

The poll took place against the backdrop of a clash between police and priests, nuns and parishioners who were protesting over a series of vandalism and arson attacks on churches.

In a nation with a large Hindu majority - nearly 80% of Indians identify as practicing Hinduism - Modi's remarks represent a shift toward protection of those who practice other faiths, and it's a welcome change to critics of the Modi administration.

In January, Christian leaders criticized Modi for his previous silence on the attacks on churches in Delhi. The series of incidents in the region led Christian leaders to believe there was pattern in the attacks on Christian churches, motivated by religious radicals in the country.

"These are not isolated events. It is the fourth attack on a church in Delhi archdiocese since December 1," Father [Savarimuthu] Shankar said in January, according to UCA News.

Christian leaders previously stated that Modi's denouncement of the attacks will help strengthen the relationship and ease tensions between Christians and Hindus.

"The prime minister owes an answer to all. ... In fact his silence is eloquent and disturbing," opposition Congress Party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said to UCA News.

Militants have targeted converts from Hinduism to other religions in particular, but Modi vows that his administration will not tolerate such violence.

Religious conversions have become a sensitive issue in recent months after hardliners with links to the BJP said Hinduism was under threat and started a campaign to convince Christians and Muslims to change their faith.

"My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly," Modi said.

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Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock /Nisarg Lakhmani