Asserting that the world is worse off when religious rights are compromised, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday called for speaking "strongly" in favour of religious freedom, days after the US alleged that mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, particularly Muslims, continued in India in 2018.
Last week the State Department, in its annual 2018 International Religious Freedom Report had alleged that "mob attacks by violent extremist Hindu groups against minority communities, particularly Muslims, continued in India in 2018, amid rumours that victims had traded or killed cows for beef", evoking a sharp reaction from the ruling BJP which said it shows a clear bias against the Modi government.
"India is the birthplace of four major world religions. Let's stand up together for religious freedom for all, let's speak out strongly together in favour of those rights for whenever we do compromise those rights, the world is worse off," Pompeo said in his 'India policy speech' at the India International Centre here.
Apart from referring to violence against minorities, the US report, released on June 21, also alleged that some senior leaders of the BJP "made inflammatory speeches against minority communities".
Reacting sharply to the report, BJP media head and Rajya Sabha MP Anil Baluni in a statement said, "the basic presumption in this report that there is some grand design behind anti-minority violence is simply false.
On the contrary, in most of such cases, these instances are carried out as a result of local disputes and by (people with) criminal mindsets." Whenever needed, PM Modi and other BJP leaders have strongly deplored violence against minorities and weaker sections of the society, he added.
Earlier, Pompeo, who is here on a two-day visit, called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and held comprehensive talks with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar.
In his brief speech lasting nearly 15 minutes, Pompeo also said the US is pleased to see the UN designating JeM chief Masood Azhar a global terrorist.
Recently India voted against Palestinian NGO that supported terrorism at the UN and showed rewarding terrorism is wrong, he said.
"India is more and more standing up on world stage and the US welcomes its assertiveness," Pompeo said.
He hailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump, saying they are leaders who aren't scared to take risks and the two countries are poised to do "incredible things together".
"We start from a good place we are blessed that India-US friendship is rooted in strong foundation. Rule of law, respect for human dignity, importance of civil society --these ideals are believed in by both indians and Americans,"he said, adding though the two nations are 10,000 miles away but as two democracies they are "very close" and ought to be even closer.
Talking about the meetings he had with the Indian leadership, he said the talks were not just about bilateral ties, but a lot of time was spent on important topics.
"There is a misconception that our countries cannot be full partners but that is not true look what already happened. You have made hard choices to cut off oil imports from Iran. You have gone away from purchasing Venezuelan oil.Those decisions weren't without cost. We are doing everything we can to ensure you have crude imports.We appreciate your efforts in pushing these regimes to behave like normal countries," Pompeo said.
"We shouldn't see each other only through bilateral lens. We should see each other for what we are, great democracies, good friends," he added.
Today, 60 percent of global maritime trade transits through Indo-Pacific, in past weeks Islamic Republic of Iran has attacked tankers from Japan, Norway, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates, he said.
Noting that for the first time in South China Sea, India and the US were able to reinforce their partnership and the freedom of navigation throughout international waterways, he also wondered,"Can America and India strategise more comprehensively on how to safeguard free and open seaways, all throughout the world. Can we work together towards cleaner energy."