India's minister for minorities rejects claims of rising bigotry: report

Indians have the freedom to practice their faith and there is no growing intolerance between religious communities, the country's minority affairs minister said in an interview published on Sunday amid spurts of religious riots in various parts of the country.

Religious clashes broke out during a Hindu religious procession in New Delhi on Saturday, injuring several people, including six policemen, police officials said, days after similar violence in three other Indian states. read more

Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government, told The Economic Times newspaper that "fringe elements, who are unable to digest the peace and prosperity in the country, try to defame India's inclusive culture and commitment."

In recent weeks, small-scale religious riots have broken out between the majority Hindu and the minority Muslim community during religious processions in some parts of the country. Some university students in the capital New Delhi fought on campus over non-vegetarian food being served in the hostel during a week that Hindus consider auspicious.

"It is not the job of the government to tell the people what to eat or not. Every citizen has freedom in the country to eat food of their choice," Naqvi said.

In recent years, the rule of Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has emboldened hardline religious groups to take up causes that they say defend Hindu faith.

Earlier this month, a controversy erupted over Muslim students wearing the hijab headscarves to school in the southern state of Karnataka, that houses the country's tech capital Bengaluru.

India's opposition parties publicly voiced concern on Saturday that multi-faith India, dominated by Hindus but with sizeable minorities including over 200 million Muslims, is becoming less tolerant under Modi's regime.

"There is no ban on hijab in India. One can wear hijab in markets and other places. But every college or institution has a dress code, discipline and decorum. We will have to accept this. If you do not like it, you can choose a different institution," said Naqvi.

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