NEW DELHI: Stressing that religious acceptance and not mere tolerance is the bedrock of nation's secularism and composite culture, Vice President Hamid Ansari today said it is the government's solemn duty to protect and promote secular values and provide equality of opportunity to all religions.
He also called for "vigilance" against forces that "exploit" the nation's diversity in religion, language and culture to divide people.
Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, Ansari said that communalism of the virulent type is a recent growth.
"The lawlessness is a monster with many faces and it hurts all, in the end, including those who are primarily responsible for it," Ansari said quoting from the 'Father of the Nation'.
"We should be vigilant against such forces that seek to exploit our diversity in religion, language and culture to divide our people.
"We have to remain alert and raise our voice against groups and individuals who use violence in the name of religion. This is the sacred duty of every true Indian," Ansari said speaking at Chisti India Harmony awards function for the year 2015 organized by India Harmony Foundation here.
He noted that India's constitutional values of secularism and liberty of thought, expression, faith and worship are premised on the existential reality of its society.
"India has been home to all great religions of the world.
While some were born here, others took root in this ancient land of ours. India has, for centuries, provided a unique social and intellectual environment in which many distinct religions have not only co-existed peacefully but have also enriched each other.
"Thus, religious harmony and acceptance, and not mere tolerance, are the bedrock of India's secularism and composite culture. It is the solemn duty of the government to make every possible effort to protect and promote secular values and provide equality of opportunity to all religions," he said.
Journalist Kuldip Nayar, author Narendra Luther, well-known Urdu poets Pandit Anand Mohan Zutshi Gulzar Dehlvi and author and historian Rana Safvi, were among the awardees.
Ansari said he commends the India Harmony Foundation for giving away these awards and for continuing their work in celebrating Indian multi-culturalism.
"These awards celebrate the work of individuals who have devoted their lives to promoting harmony and building bridges between communities.
"These awards are among the most visible of philanthropic activities undertaken by India Harmony Foundation," he said.
The Foundation was established by late Zafar Saifullah, former Cabinet Secretary.
Ansari said Saiffullah represented the best of the syncretic culture of India devoting himself to building bridges between communities.
In a separate statement, Ansari also greeted the people on the occasion of 'Mahavir Jayanti' and urged countrymen to commit themselves to building a peaceful, harmonious and just society.
"I extend my warm greetings and good wishes to the people of our country on the auspicious occasion of Mahavir Jayanti.
Through his teachings of non-violence and compassion Bhagwan Mahavir showed an enlightened path for happiness and progress of humanity.
"On this auspicious occasion, let us commit ourselves for building a peaceful, harmonious and just society," he said in his message.