Christian activist urges Italy and Europe not to close their eyes to human rights issues in India
by John Dayal*
Appeal is made to Italian PM Prodi. Economic interests should not monopolise relations. India should be helped to protect religious freedom and respect minorities and Dalits. Otherwise, there is no development.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Christians in India, especially Catholics, are following Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s visit to India with particular interest, perhaps more than any other Western leader. His stops at St Thomas Church in Chennai and the tomb of Mother Teresa in Kolkata have been much appreciated.

Beyond formalities, there is however great hope that closer ties between India and Europe might persuade Indian leaders to address more directly the country’s social problems which continue to threat its development.

Lest we forget, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI talked straightforwardly, not hiding behind diplomatic niceties, and denounced the persecution of Christians and the violence perpetrated by majority nationalists in India and elsewhere in South Asia.

Now that ties between India and the West grow deeper in terms of industrial development and trade, activists for human rights and religious freedom are hopeful that the Old Continent might put pressure on New Delhi at every level in ways that might see the Indian government, political leaders and economic elites respect basic rights.

So far there are reasons to be sceptical. Large Indian and Western companies have turned a blind eye to what is happening in Gujarat, a state that remains hostile to Muslims and Christians but not to large-scale infrastructural investments.

No one expects leaders to make strong statements on human rights or commitments to their defence during state visits, but one might expect them to take advantage of such rare opportunities to send a message to New Delhi that economic progress, a strong democracy and world-wide trade ambitions require greater focus on issues such as religious freedom and full protection of civil liberties.

No one is demanding coercive steps like trade restrictions or bans on foreign aid, but as India finds its place in the global village, it must be aware that it has responsibilities like improving its citizens’ quality of life, protecting the rights of Dalits and respecting its religious minorities.

The fact that Europe, too, may have skeletons in its own closet can provide an opportunity for a wider reflection on the matter.

*Secretary General of the All India Christian Council and President of the All India Catholic Union.