Narendra Modi pledges to protect Christians following church attacks

"We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext," Indian PM Narendra Modi said today.Reuters

Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi today promised to protect all minority religious groups following outrage over a wave of recent attacks on Christian institutions in Delhi.

Speaking at an event celebrating the beatification of two Indian saints, Modi said: "The world is increasingly witnessing division on the basis of religion. My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has undeniable rights to retain the religion of his or her choice.

"I appeal to all religious groups to act with restraint."

Modi's Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) is right-wing, with links to extremist Hindu groups which have been using a nationalist ideology to promote 'Hindutva' – equating being Indian with having a Hindu faith. Five states in India currently have anti-conversion laws which state that those who wish to convert to another religion must first gain official permission. Religious leaders are also required by law to report conversions or risk a three-year jail sentence themselves.

However, a fifth of the population identify with other religions, and there has been increasing calls for the government to increase protections for minority groups.

The BJP appear to be losing popularity, and Modi's latest attempt to promote religious freedom could be an attempt to win back the Christian vote.

Last week, his party won just three of 70 seats in the Delhi state elections, with the Aam Aadmi Party taking the other 67.

"My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly," Modi said today.

Despite the string of attacks on five churches and a Christian school in the capital, he insisted that his government gives "equal respect to all religions".

"We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard."

India is currently 21 on the World Watch List, which ranks the most difficult countries to be a Christian. There were more than 600 attacks on Christian and Muslim groups in the first 100 days of the BJP's rule.

Last month, President Obama highlighted the tensions surrounding freedom of religion during a trip to India, and called on Modi's government to protect vulnerable groups.

"Your Article 25 [of the constitution] says that all people are 'equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion'," Obama told a town hall address in New Delhi.

"In both our countries, in all countries, upholding this fundamental freedom is the responsibility of government, but it's also the responsibility of every person."