Updated: February 18, 2015 11:16:54 am
Spiritualism is rooted in India’s heritage. Indian saints and Greek sages had intellectual and spiritual exchanges thousands of years back. India’s openness to new ideas is manifest in the Rig Veda: “Aano bhadraha kratvo yantu vishvataha (Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides)”. This philosophy has guided our intellectual discourse since time immemorial. Mother India gave birth to many religious and spiritual streams. Some of them have even travelled beyond India’s borders.
The tradition of welcoming, respecting and honouring all faiths is as old as India itself. As Swami Vivekananda said: “We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true”. What Swami Vivekananda had said a century ago holds good and will forever, not only for this nation but also for this government or, for that matter, any government in India run by any political party. This principle of equal respect and treatment for all faiths has been a part of India’s ethos for thousands of years. And that is how it became integral to the Constitution of India. Our Constitution did not evolve in a vacuum. It has roots in the ancient cultural traditions of India.
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had inspired us to dream of a land where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. It is that heaven of freedom we are duty bound to create and preserve. We believe that there is truth in every religion — ekam sat vipr bahudha vadanti.
Let me now come to the issue which is central and critical to peace and harmony in the contemporary world. The world is increasingly witnessing division and hostility on religious lines. This has become a matter of global concern. In this context, the ancient Indian plea of mutual respect for all faiths is now beginning to manifest itself in the global discourse.
This long-felt need and urge for mutually respectful relations led to the interfaith conference on “faith in human rights” at the Hague on December 10, 2008. This was coincidentally also the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.
Religious leaders representing every major world religion — Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, the Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism and indigenous religions — met, discussed and pledged to uphold the Universal Declaration and freedom of religion or belief. In their historic declaration, they defined what constitutes freedom of faith and how it is to be safeguarded.
We consider the freedom to have, to retain and to adopt a religion or belief to be a personal choice of a citizen. The world is at a cross roads, which, if not crossed properly, can throw us back to the dark days of bigotry, fanaticism and bloodshed. This harmonious convergence among religions could not be achieved even when the world entered the third millennium. And now it has been. This shows that the rest of the world too is evolving along the lines of ancient India.
Speaking for India and for my government, I declare that my government stands by every word of the above declaration. My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence. My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to either the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions.
India is the land of Buddha and Gandhi. Equal respect for all religions must be in the DNA of every Indian. We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard.
With this commitment, I appeal to all religious groups to act with restraint, mutual respect and tolerance, in the true spirit of this ancient nation, which is manifest in our Constitution and is in line with the Hague Declaration.
I have a vision of a modern India. I have embarked on a huge mission to convert that vision into reality. My mantra is development — sabka saath, sabka vikas.
In simple terms, it means food on every table, every child in school, a job for everybody and a house with a toilet and electricity for every family. This will make India proud. We can achieve this through unity. Unity strengthens us. Division weakens us. I sincerely request all Indians and all of you present here to support me in this huge task.
Let the elevation to sainthood of Saint Chavara and Saint Euphrasia, and their noble deeds, inspire us to maximise our inner strength, to use that strength for transforming society through selfless service, to fulfil our collective vision of a developed and modern India.
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