India — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:06 pm on 18th December 2008.

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Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 1:06 pm, 18th December 2008

My Lords, the title of the noble Baroness's debate was prompted by the recent horrific attacks in Mumbai, but noble Lords have rightly ranged well beyond that. I was in Nairobi with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, at the time and was reminded—as I am sure he was—of the very close ties between families on both sides of the Indian Ocean. These atrocities have affected us all, but they are not the atrocities in India and we should neither underestimate nor exaggerate the power of a very small minority of extremists. There was obviously a plan but it was not clear whether there was any mission. The atrocities were callous and indiscriminate. I understand from an Indian Muslim friend that 40 Muslims were among the victims.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Bilimoria that we should congratulate both the England and the India cricket teams on going ahead with the test match in Chennai and on producing such an outstanding performance on both sides so soon after these events. The local police must also be commended. We can imagine what was on the minds of those players during the preceding fortnight and we can be certain that it was not cricket. But cricket must be one of the most convincing demonstrations of the victory of the human spirit over violence and terrorism. As my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, in India, Sachin Tendulkar has personified this.

Meanwhile, it is to India's credit that collaboration with the Pakistani authorities over terrorist suspects already shows promise of more reconciliation between those two countries in future. This was immediately demonstrated by the raid on the main Lashkar-e-Taiba camp last week. This co-operation, if it holds, may be a positive outcome, much as we deplore the cost to all the families affected in Mumbai and beyond.

As my noble friend Lady Cox said, India has seen violence in a variety of forms. There are many areas of non-Islamic terrorism in India, whether from Maoists, Nepalis, Naxalites or others in the south. I was surprised that, after an all-too-brief visit, our Prime Minister's Statement on Monday made almost no reference to the work that the police, courts and politicians have to do all the time in India to combat terrorism, crime and human rights abuse.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester said this week in an interview that during his time at Karachi University you had to choose between three faiths: Christianity, radical Islam and Marxism. When the bishop sent him to work in the Karachi slums, he says, the people were so poor that he had to bury their dead children in fruit crates. Seen from the shanty towns of Mumbai and Karachi, the world has not moved on a great deal from that time, except for mobile phones, which serve every community and cross every divide. Where there is acute poverty and child labour, gangs will always rule and radical Islamists will recruit new suicidal teenagers.

Does the Minister accept the analysis of another cricketer, Imran Khan, that the aerial war on terror in the North West Frontier Province is, and has always been, counterproductive? Does he appreciate that even where intelligence about the location of terrorists is correct, the collateral damage from the air is bound to turn the population against foreign interference? This is not to deny that co-operation with the Pakistan army and intelligence services on the ground must continue and can only improve, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said. India will be furious at today's news that Pakistan has lost Masood Azhar, founder of Jaish-e-Mohammad, one of those who attacked the Lok Sabha in that terrible event in 2001.

Another large community in India is exposed to attacks every day of the year; namely, the dalits. I declare an interest as a patron of the Dalit Solidarity Network in the UK. To give one illustration, I was in a village in Rajasthan a year ago, where a shepherd boy had simply spilled water from a hand pump over a bucket belonging to a Rajput merchant family. The boy was thrashed, and when his mother ran to help she was beaten so badly that her clothes were torn and she was taken to hospital. When a bystander later tried to bring charges for this straightforward event, the Rajputs shot his son dead in front of him.

This vendetta against anyone who defends dalits is quite common. The chances of dalits ultimately receiving justice are extremely thin. Even when a case comes to the local courts, the victim is unlikely to win. Out of 297 cases followed by one local NGO in Hyderabad, 287 were acquittals, making an average conviction rate of only 4.7 per cent. In cases lasting more than three years, the rate fell to 3 per cent.

Despite this, I know that a lot of local NGOs in the dalit network are working overtime to prepare cases for court and in the mean time to support families directly affected by these atrocities. I am glad to say that DfID is currently engaged with some of these NGOs through the international aid agencies, and I hope that it will continue this support.

I have also seen how effectively NGOs in Orissa are working with the poorest sections of society. I was especially impressed a few years ago by a CARE International project which demonstrated how young women, given loans and basic literacy, can start small businesses and completely transform their family life and the local economy. My noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries is right to highlight the crucial importance of education in that context. The potential for aid and development is very strong in India, and this can extend to human rights work. I am sure that the Minister will have taken up my noble friend's important point about internal trade in South Asia. I am sure that we can help there.

However, I should tell the Minister that like the noble Baroness I am not satisfied by the FCO's participation in the human rights dialogue with India. Part of this is bilateral and part of it is through the EU, and the EU commissioner is personally committed to it. But we are old friends of India, and many of us would like to see a much more active role for the FCO, not just through dialogue at a high and occasional level, but through engagement with some of the organisations experienced in human rights in India and, in that way, through the political process in India.

As we have heard, in Orissa last August a Hindu swami and four assistants were shot dead by unknown gunmen. As these men were known to have converted tribals and dalits to Hinduism, Christians were immediately blamed. In the reprisals, more than 200 churches and hundreds of houses were destroyed in Kandhamal; violence in which dozens of Christians lost their lives and thousands became homeless. A nun and a Hindu girl were raped: the girl was murdered, it was said, because her grandparents were converted Christians. We should all be grateful to my noble friend Lady Cox—I know that we are—and to Christian Solidarity Worldwide for all the documentation that is done following the many visits that they have undertaken.

Christmas Day has apparently been chosen for another showdown between the two religious camps in Orissa. The Hindu authorities, backed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, VHP, have ordered a sit-down strike—or a bandh—on that day if the swami's killers are not arrested. In response, the National Council of Churches and the Catholic Bishops' Conference have united to resist all threats to Christians during their most important festival. Violence erupted when a similar strike was called around Christmas last year, and we must hope that there will not be violence this time.

This conflict, like others in the sub-continent, cannot simply be explained by religion, as is usually suggested, especially in popular newspaper headlines. While dalits have generally been the poorest and most neglected in society, many have undeniably improved their socio-economic status through conversion. In itself, that may be a cause of envy and resentment. Yet again, victimisation of Christians and their loss of scheduled status recently led some of them to question whether the church's protection has in fact led them into violence and homelessness, when they would have preferred to be left alone.

The Chief Minister of Orissa, Mr Naveen Patnaik, is a personal friend of mine from Delhi in the 1960s, when his father was the Chief Minister before him. I know his family well. I was encouraged to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, of his assurances about security at Christmas. But I have to tell Naveen that, from what I have read, neither his Government nor the Union Government in Delhi have taken sufficient action to find the perpetrators of this massacre or to protect its victims still in camps. The state police are inadequate to prevent further violence: some say that they cannot even defend themselves. Is it not time for both central and state governments together to take more initiative? My noble friend has already made suggestions about the intelligence services, which the Minister will have noted.

As a result of the terrorist outrage in Mumbai, there is already a lot of heart-searching in India. There will, I hope, be, alongside the pursuit of criminals, an international recognition of its underlying causes. Further, there must be a renewed determination by the Indian Government, with outside help, to deal with the country's own major challenge, the eradication of poverty and human rights abuse in all forms.