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Forced religious conversions cannot be the measure of spread of any religion in a nation like India, Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said on Tuesday and asserted that both believers and atheists co-exist with equal rights in this country.

In his interaction with prominent people from the Christian community belonging to various parts of the country, Naqvi said India can never fall prey to religious bigotry and intolerance as it is the world’s largest centre of spiritual-religious knowledge and also a source of inspiration for “Sarva Dharma Sama Bhav” (equal respect to all religions) and “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (whole world is one family).

He said both believers and atheists have equal constitutional and social rights and protection in India.

While on one hand, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, Jews, Baha’is and believers of various other religions of the world live in India, on the other, crores of atheists exist in the country with equal constitutional and social rights, the minister said.

Forced religious conversions cannot be the measure of spread of any religion in a country where both believers and atheists have equal rights, Naqvi was quoted as saying in a statement.

India is the only country in the world where festivals and other joyous occasions of various religions are celebrated together, he said.

“We need to keep this shared cultural heritage and legacy of co-existence strengthened. Any attempt to disturb this fabric of unity and harmony will hurt the soul of India,” Naqvi asserted.

Followers of almost all the religions of the world live in India and the constitutional and social guarantee and the safety of their religious, social, economic and educational rights is the beauty of the country’s strength of “unity in diversity”, he said.

Naqvi asserted that it is “our collective national responsibility” to ensure that India’s culture of tolerance and commitment of co-existence is not allowed to be weakened under any circumstances.

Minister of State for Minority Affairs John Barla, National Commission for Minorities Chairman Iqbal Singh Lalpura, Ministry of Minority Affairs Secretary Renuka Kumar, Archbishop Anil Joseph, Bishop Subodh C Mandal, among others, were present on the occasion.

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