Modi, Obama discuss extremism challenge

Washington: Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday discussed the challenges posed by extremism with US President Barack Obama and the two leaders underlined the need to ensure the participation of civil society and minority communities to address the issue, officials said.

The Prime Minister and the President had a very extensive and thoughtful conversation about the rise of extremism and the need for all countries to work together to address this challenge, a senior administration official said.

The two leaders also underlined the need to ensure that the civil society and the minority communities are fully participating in addressing the issue, the official said.

However, there was no specific discussion on human rights issues and religious freedom on India, officials said.

"No, I do not believe the subject came up today in the discussions," Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said.

Meanwhile, Tom Lantos, Human Rights Commission held a hearing to examine the current state of human rights in India, challenges to fundamental freedom and opportunities for advancement.

Testifying before the Commission, several experts expressed their concern over the human rights condition in India.

In a related development, a bipartisan group of 18 House members – led by Representatives Trent Franks and Betty McCollum– wrote to the House Speaker Paul Ryan urging him to prioritize religious freedom in India during his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially in light of ongoingviolence and harassment against religious minorities, including Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Sikhs.

Modi is scheduled to address a joint session of the US Congress today.

"We respectfully request that during your meetings with the Prime Minister, the 'shared value' of the fundamental right of religious freedom will be a priority in your conversation.

"Religious minority communities have endured ongoing violence and harassment for decades in India, and continue to live in a climate where known perpetrators commit violence with impunity," the Members of Congress wrote.

"It is in the best interest of the US and India to reaffirm religious freedom as a shared value in this growing partnership, and ensure that conversation concerning justice and accountability for such horrific acts of violence continues," the letter said.

In the letter, the lawmakers cite several specific examples of violent attacks that have killed or displaced religious minorities.

Human rights groups in India have investigated and traced these attacks to specific groups, but a current climate of impunity exists in India around such attacks and many victims never receive justice, they said.

"As we consider the shared values of the US and India, due attention to the fundamental human right of religious freedom is of the utmost importance," Franks said.

"Religious minority communities in India have endured incidents of harassment, discrimination, intimidation and violent attacks for decades, often with little hope for justice.

"It is my sincere hope that every person in India will experience true freedom of faith, regardless of religion," he said.

"The important relationship between India and the US is based on our shared democratic values. Religious minorities in India deserve the freedom to live out their faith without fear," McCollum said.

The Congressmen who signed on the letter were Chris Smith, Juan Vargas, André Carson, Keith Ellison, Patrick Meehan, Keith Rothfus, Randy Weber, Dan Kildee, Mike Honda, John Conyers Jr, John Garamendi, Robert Aderholt, Anna Eshoo, Joe Pitts, Barbara Lee, and David Valadao.



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