12/29/2010, 00.00
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Pope is correct on religious freedom, Indian activist says

by Lenin Raghuvanshi
Human rights activist Lenin Raghuvanshi talks to AsiaNews about Benedict XVI’s message for World Peace Day in which the Pontiff said that “religious freedom is the path towards peace”. He illustrates the issue by discussing the case of India, caught up in the turmoil of Hindu fundamentalist nationalism.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – “His Holiness the Pope is absolutely correct in stating that religious freedom is the path to peace”. Wherever this right is not respected,  you have the bases of Fascism, said Lenin Raghuvanshi, executive director of the Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) as he spoke to AsiaNews about the need to respect religious freedom as the stepping stone to build just and peaceful coexistence. Dr Raghuvanshi won the 2010 Weimar Human Rights Award and the 2007 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.

If a society wants sustainable peace, there should be religious freedom and freedom of conscience. The absence of religious freedom leads to intolerance, hostilities and tensions.

Religious freedom presupposes freedom from the state in the sphere of religion and freedom from state control over conscience. All democracies in the world must ensure and guarantee freedom of religion. The progress and development of a democracy will be the result of a peaceful and tolerant society.

When everyone, including linguistic and ethnic minorities, has the freedom to practice their religion, rituals and religious expressions, society will be more harmonious and cohesive. This creates an enabling environment for the progress and prosperity of a nation.

Any society that does not guarantee religious freedom breeds and engenders communal Fascism.  Political communalism is a preliminary to political Fascism. Communal Fascism is the abuse of religious fundamentalist philosophy for political advantages and the usurpation of political power in order to establish supremacy in society.

For example in India, Hindu Fascist forces abuse the Hindu religion for electoral politics.  Yet, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Sangh Parivar are not daunted by this frightening prospect. On the contrary, there is no effort to solve the basic problems of the people like poverty, unemployment, health or justice.

In India today, it is not just a matter of political communalism but rather of state Fascism under the Hindutva (Hindu religious right) brigade. The Rastriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS) is a Hindu Fascist force founded in 1925. The RSS chief organiser Guru Golwalker, who held Hitler and Mussolini in very high esteem, described India as a purely Hindu country with Muslims as second-class citizens.  The Gujarat massacre of 2002 and the carnage in Kandhamal (Orissa) embody this evil. Polarisation and partisanship are examples what communal Fascist forces can do.

Destruction of secular democracy in India means the destruction of its unity and integrity. Hence, it was most urgent that His Holiness the Pope, who is a most revered spiritual leader and a respected   and ardent advocate of peace and human rights in the world, make his prophetic call on World Day of Peace indicating that religious freedom is the path to peace.

The danger faced by India’s caste dictatorship created a new link between communal Hinduism and Fascism, a structure based on exclusion. Until all progressive powers join hand in hand to crush Brahminism at its roots, the Manu’s patriarchal dictatorship will persist and flourish. Little can be attained quickly until such time that communal Fascism is not crushed. The danger for the world from Indian Hindu communal Fascism is that every fifth person in the world is Indian.

The same is true of the communal Fascist forces in Pakistan, where the majority want to usurp political power and marginalise minorities, exposing them to violence and subjugation and second-class status.

Hence, religious freedom is the basis for democracy.  Political forces use the absence of religious freedom to marginalise vulnerable minority groups.  The politicisation of religion is due to absence of religious freedom in a society, and this results in communal Fascism.

It is most urgent that world leaders take seriously the message of His Holiness the Pope that religious freedom is the path to peace, if they want to foster sustainable peace in the world.

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