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“Changes come when people feel other’s pain” 

By Santosh Digal

The International Religious Freedom Caucus on February 13 organized a discussion on the religious freedom in India. Congressmen Gus Bilirakis and Thomas Garrett chaired the program.

A leading personality behind the discussion was Mike Mohamed Ghouse, founder of Center for Pluralism, Washington.
“He is engaged in building relationships among various religious groups, especially Muslims and Christians of America.” The true expression would be, he is committed to building cohesive societies and has relationships with people of “all’ faiths from Atheists to Zoroastrians, including Native Americans, Pagans, Wicca, LGBTQ, and the immigrant communities. Part of that work can be seen at www.Standingupforothers.com and the Center for Pluralism.

He is often criticized by Islamic scholars for taking a rather liberal view of Islamic teachings and for trying to conform Islam to the demands of Western societies. However, he remains unfazed by the opposition. He has been a vocal critical of America’s war in Iraq and played a prominent role in the campaign against those who opposed a mosque in the Manhattan.

The Bengaluru-born pluralist and outstanding interfaith and peace activist settled in the United States shared with Matters India his views on religious freedom in India and the reasons for holding the discussion..

MATTERS INDIA: Why should the Hindu America Foundation (HAF) take the initiative against the lynching of Muslims, persecution of Christians and harassment of Dalits in India?

MICHAEL MOHAMED GHOUSE: HAF is a very active human rights organization in the US, and I expect them to condemn such violations of human rights. They have rightfully condemned such violations in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, as we have condemned. They did not get an opportunity to condemn the violations of the right-wing Hindu organizations in India. This is an opportunity for them to earn respect from all as a true human rights organization.

How can the recommendations that your forum made to the International Religious Freedom Caucus be fruitful?

The Caucus will take that up, and on my part, I will follow it up with them as well as the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. The HAF is well connected in India, and they can reason with the right wing organizations of India. They are in the best position to understand how the Hindus as minorities feel, they can understand the harassment they feel being a minority in America and elsewhere, and they can empathize with the minorities in India. Changes come when people feel the pain of the other, and I am sure HAF does feel because it is made up of people with American values; justice and fairness.

How can International Religious Freedom Caucus exert its influence on the Indian government against atrocities against Muslims, Christians and Dalits?

The Americans (that includes all of us) are aware of what is going on, we are driven by our interests, and human rights are one along with business and security of our investments. Do you remember South Africa? American companies will pull out of India if they sense injustice and eventual chaos, hurting everyone. Any investor wants security for his investment. It is in the interests of Indian corporations as well to ensure that their investments are safe. We need responsible business people to be involved who will bring prosperity to all.

What is the wake-up call for democracy in a country like India?

The success of a nation hinges on its two solid feet; economic prosperity which brings “sab ka vikas,” (development of all) not just “mitron ka vikas” (development of friends) and “sab ka saath,” (with everyone) where every Indian should feel included. That is a cohesive India, where no Indian feels excluded or lives in apprehension. Both the economy and social fabric must remain intact. One will not succeed without the other, otherwise what we will witness would a langda (lame) India and ultimately everyone will suffer.

Injustice to one is an injustice to all – and it would be anti-Sanatana dharma (eternal religion) not to respect the otherness of the other, and it would be adharma (irreligious) to harass, lynch and compel fellow Indians to do anything against their will. India will be back on its righteous track if Indians bring a strong opposition in Parliament or flip the party to govern.

Monopoly given to any party tempts them to become evil. The Bharatiya Janata Party is no exception. We the people have to wake up and save our democracy, the democracy that gives freedom to each one of us including the perpetrators and the victims. It is a shame if we let the incoherence is passed on to next generation; they don’t deserve our prejudices, ill-will, and pettiness.

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