MARSEILLE: The European Union on Monday ticked off Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his government's failure to curtail violence against ministry Christians in different parts of the country including severely affected states like Karanataka, Orissa and Kerala.
The issue was taken up strongly with Singh by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is also the head of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission.
Talking to reporters, Sarkozy strongly dismissed the suggestion that the "massacre" could be equated with the discrimination Sikhs allegedly face in France. Although Sarkozy said he admired Singh's condemnation of the anti-Christian violence as a "national shame" and his promise to guarantee the religious rights of minority communities in India, the two sides clearly differed on the scale of the violence against Christians in India.
In his reply, the PM said there were "some sporadic incidents" though he declared the determination of the state to ensure that minority communities exercise their constitutional right to profess and propagate their respective faiths. He listed the measures taken by the Centre — advisories to Karnataka and Orissa and deployment of its forces — to emphasize the intent of his government to put an end to violence against Christians allegedly by Bajrang Dal and VHP.
Sarkozy and Barrosso expressed satisfaction with Singh's assurances. "He is a courageous man. My respect for him has gone up because of his courageous assurances," Sarkozy said. Barroso spoke in the same vein, saying that "we praise the clarity with which he has condemned the violence".
The French president, however, was riled by a question which asked about the ban on Sikh turbans in government-funded schools in France.
"Massacre of Christians and the turban issue are not of the same nature," he snapped. He also made it clear that Sikhs will have to conform to rules of the French Republic.
"We respect their customs and traditions and they are welcome in France. But we have rules regarding the neutrality of civil servants; regarding secularism and those apply not just to Sikhs or Muslims but to all. They are non-discriminatory. So while we respect the customs of Sikhs, we expect them to respect the rules of the Republic," Sarkozy asserted.