Dalai Lama calls inter-faith meeting in India to counter violence

Dalai Lama calls inter-faith meeting in India to counter violence

NEW DELHI - The Dalai Lama will convene a rare meeting of India's religious leaders to try to tackle rape, communal violence and other issues facing the world's biggest democracy, an aide said Tuesday.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner has invited India's spiritual leaders for the two-day meeting this weekend to seek practical strategies to address "important issues ailing society today", a statement said.

The aide, Gelek Namgyal, said the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who has lived in India since 1959, was deeply concerned about levels of violence in the country, along with environmental degradation and poverty.

Namgyal said the Dalai Lama's initiative was not a criticism of India's Hindu nationalist right-wing government, which swept to power in May.

But the meeting in New Delhi, the first such gathering organised by the Dalai Lama, comes at a time of rising communal tensions in India, particularly between majority Hindus and minority Muslims.

"His Holiness has decided to come forward because he is concerned about the problems in India," Namgyal told AFP.

"The criminal violence against women, against children and the communal violence, he feels that he should do something practical and try to come together to help those in need."

"He feels that spiritual leaders such as himself have a moral responsibility to address the situation."

Those expected to attend include Hindu guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a senior Muslim cleric, the archbishop of Bombay and the head of the Jewish community in Delhi, the statement said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's political party was accused during the election campaign of trying to polarise votes along communal lines.

The president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Amit Shah, faces charges of inflaming religious tensions in a speech during the campaign.

The speech was given in the northern district of Muzaffarnagar, which was hit last year by Hindu-Muslim riots that left at least 50 people dead and thousands displaced.

India is also facing high levels of rapes against women, underscored by a series of high-profile assaults including the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in Delhi in 2012.

News of the meeting comes on the eve of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to India to build stronger ties.

The Dalai Lama, who fled an uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet in 1959, lives in the northern hill station of Dharamsala and is reviled by Beijing.

The leader supports "meaningful autonomy" for Tibet within China rather than outright independence. But China accuses the Dalai Lama of covertly campaigning for Tibet's independence and calls him a "splittist".

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