At a time when nations around the globe are losing ground to extremism, India’s tradition of tolerance and its management of a large and diverse society can be an important learning ground for the world, a U.S. cable from its New Delhi embassy said in 2006.
The cable said in the democratic, multi—religious, and multi—ethnic society that India is, secularism is synonymous to tolerance of all faiths and extremists are far outnumbered by ‘secular’ moderates.
“India’s large Muslim population, and that community’s relatively positive relations with its Hindu majority, also offer insights on how we can more effectively engage in the battle of ideas against violent extremism within a democratic, pluralistic society,” said the cable coming from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi in April 2006.
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“We can learn a great deal from India’s management of its large society to minimise extremist ideologies. India enjoys a democratic, multi—religious, multi—cultural, heterogeneous, multi—ethnic society where all major world religions are practised freely,” it said.
“Isolated elements of religious extremism of many varieties have, however, occurred in India - notably among Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs - although extremists as a whole are by far outnumbered by ‘secular’ moderates,” the U.S. Embassy said, praising the secular democratic tradition of India.
It said in the Indian context, secularism stands for tolerance for all faiths, and does not imply life devoid of religion, although religious freedom - including atheism - is protected and guaranteed by the Constitution and a long history of court precedent.
“At a time when many nations appear to be losing ground to extremist movements, India’s trendlines are pointing in the right direction, bolstered by strong indigenous traditions of communal co-habitation, non-violent political protest, a free press,” the embassy cable said.
It also noted a realisation by politicians that religious hatred is not a vote getter among the “increasingly savvy, globalised, and prosperous Indian electorate“.
However, it said a risk of isolated outbreaks of sectarian violence remains.
”... especially in response to the terrorism that has plagued India for decades, or when provoked by regional politicians for their narrow political purposes (for example, the recently passed anti—conversion legislation in Rajasthan),” the cable said.
The Embassy noted that a special public diplomacy effort is being made to engage with Indian Muslims, including young students and other young people, and to foster interfaith dialogue among India’s multi—cultural and multi—religious communities.
“Our outreach ranges from one—on—one engagement with elites to press interviews to mass—audience interaction to overcome misperceptions and stereotypes. We also monitor and report trends in religious extremism,” it said.