Delhi (AsiaNews) - "We express deep gratitude to President Barack Obama for speaking out in support of religious freedom, as defined by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, and for reminding us that violence against a particular group because of its faith is unacceptable," said Christian activist Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) as he spoke to AsiaNews about the recent visit by the US President to India.
Before leaving the country for Saudi Arabia for his first official meeting with the new Saudi king, Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the US president delivered a strong message against confessional extremism.
Obama called for greater tolerance among people of different faiths, stressing that "India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith".
"[E]every person," Obama said, "has the right to practice their faith how they choose, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination."
In his 35-minute address in front of a selected audience of about 1,500 people at Siri Fort Auditorium (the first speech without any Indian leader by his side), the US president made reference to religious tolerance, noting that India and the United States are home to Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Jews.
Citing Mahatma Gandhi, Obama said that "the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree."
Finally, the US leader cited Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees - as does the US Constitution - the indissoluble principle of religious freedom, which cannot be violated and which "is the responsibility of government" as well as "the responsibility of every person."
Speaking about Obama's speech, Christian activist Sajan K George noted the US president's "specific reference" to "Article 25 of the Constitution" and the emphasis on "the respect of constitutional guarantees," including for "freedom of conscience".
The GCIC president calls Hindu extremist movements like the HHP and RSS a "stain" on India's "secular credentials". Both groups are "associated with the current government" led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and have been "responsible for regular, repeated and unprovoked attacks against the Christian minority."
The GCIC welcomes economic agreements and cooperation between Delhi and Washington, but it also emphasises the need for respect of constitutional rights that India's extreme right seems to violate often, in particular when it comes to the rights of Christians.
"India is becoming a global economic power," Sajan K George said, "but it has to contain sectarian violence."
For the activist, this problem does not affect Christians alone, but touches "every citizen of India," a nation that claims to be "secular".
"Only if religious freedom and human rights are respected will India be a full member of a global civilisation."