Religious freedom and defence of minorities should be the priorities of a re-elected Bush, John Daya

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – According to John Dayal, Indian human rights groups, including those working  to protect religious freedom, hope that US President Bush will become actively involved in protecting religious freedom in Asia, especially for Christian minorities who are persecuted by fundamentalist groups, often aided and abetted by local governments. Mr Dayal is secretary general of the All India Christian Council and president of the All India Catholic Union, umbrella organisations bringing together India's Christians and Catholics. Speaking to AsiaNews, he said that whilst public opinion is divided in India over US foreign policy, Indian Christians "are distressed at the large number of Christian casualties and the violence unleashed in Iraq".

For this reason, "we hope that in his second term George Bush will follow a policy that restores peace to the region, brings relief to the civilian population and, in particular, ensures that Christian minorities in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and neighbouring states are not made scapegoats of fundamentalist or state violence by those who see themselves as victims of US military action".

As to the impact of Bush's re-election on Asia, John Dayal urges the US president to pay closer attention to the social and religious situation in the countries of South East Asia. "Almost without exception, the eight countries of the region—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—have a terrible record vis-à-vis their religious minorities, especially Christians," Mr Dayal said.

"All share a common trait, namely their majority communities, often with state connivance, target Christians," he insisted. More importantly, "most of these countries already have or are planning to adopt harsh laws against Christians preaching, practicing and propagating their faith."

Since "religious freedom is a pillar of the United Nations system," the Indian human rights activist said, "every country should honour it."

For Mr Dayal, although there should be no interference in the internal affairs of any nation, "the US State Department and the Religious Freedom Ambassador should encourage religious freedom in Asia recognizing the universal nature of this most basic of human right."

Speaking about what Bush's re-election might mean for India, the Christian leader said he hoped it would lead the US administration "to greater cooperation in peace and economic affairs [and thus] to better human rights in this part of the world [with] greater employment opportunities and greater cooperation in strengthening civil society".

Mr Dayal urges the US and India to cooperate in removing from Asia the shadow cast by nuclear weapons and in guaranteeing human rights and dignity to the poor, the marginalised, refugees and the Dalits, India's untouchables.

He also stressed how happy many Indians feel about the election of Bobby Jindal to the House of Representatives, the second Indo-American to hold office in the US Congress.

India's market reacted positively to the news of Bush's re-election.

The government in New Delhi thinks that it can expect US administration backing in its fight against terrorism.

Bush's victory also strengthens those political and cultural trends in Indian society that are opposed to ethical and moral permissiveness. From an Indian perspective, many view the defeat of the liberal ideology of challenger John Kerry as a good thing. (NC)