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'US and India continue to advance the issue of freedom of religion'

By Aziz Haniffa/Rediff.com
March 09, 2015 10:50 IST
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'It is important that the prime minister and our officials here, we dedicate ourselves to that important goal, the concept of freedom of religion for all to worship their faith,' US Congressman Ed Royce tells Aziz Haniffa/Rediff.com

Protestors raise slogans outside the Sacred Heart Church in New Delhi. Photograph: Merril Diniz

Dalit Americans have told United States Congressman Ed Royce that Prime Minister Narendra Modi can empathise with their trials and tribulations as he belongs to a low caste himself.

In an exclusive interview with Rediff.com, Royce was circumspect on US President Barack Obama's speech in January at the Siri Fort and later at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC on religious intolerance in India, which some argued took the sheen away from the euphoric Obama-Modi summit in New Delhi.

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Royce is leading a bipartisan Congressional delegation currently visiting India.

"The prime minister," Royce said, "has spoken out in the past on the lower castes in India and about what can be done in fairness for all castes."

"I would point out the common values that India have with the United States include the basic concept that we have in the United States in terms of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It is after all, in our constitution -- the first right of the Bill of Rights."

"The United States and India continue to advance the issue of freedom of religion and freedom for all, and tolerance for all classes, which is an ideal that we both share," the Congressman added.

And, he acknowledged, "We in the United States don't always reach this ideal as India doesn't always reach it."

But, he reiterated, "The fact that we continue to strive towards this goal is the key point and that is why I think it is important that the prime minister and our officials here, we dedicate ourselves to that important goal, the concept of freedom of religion for all to worship their faith."

Asked if he would reinforce this contention during his meeting with Modi, Royce said, "I will share with the prime minister the fact that I have talked to some leaders in the Dalit community in the United States. They expressed a feeling that the prime minister was not from an upper caste and that he has shown concern for equality and upward opportunity."

The influential lawmaker also pointed out that Modi has addressed "the issue of protecting the rights of women and especially women in rural India," and that it was the prime minister who "came up with the concept... helped develop the concept in Gujarat of recruiting women policewomen in order to make certain that they were in the force to protect women's rights."

Image: Protestors raise slogans outside the Sacred Heart Church in New Delhi. Photograph: Merril Diniz

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Aziz Haniffa/Rediff.com in Washington, DC
 
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